Someone in our university’s administration chose us, three students, each of us representing a faith group on campus, one from the Hillel group, one from Newman Center, and me, representing Wesley Foundation. I suspected that the fact that I was also editor of the campus newspaper also played a role in my selection.
Our friends expressed curiosity and a little envy at our expenses-paid trip to Washington. We joked with them, pointing out that the president was traveling so would not be in Washington while we were there. Someone has to take charge and run the country, we said, laughing.
In fact we were part of an assemblage of serious students representing colleges and universities in every state across the entire country. Our gathering was called a conference on religion and race. Shortly after we arrived at our humble lodgings at Peace Corps headquarters near Washington, we learned that our mission was to try to influence our elected representatives to support the civil rights legislation making its way through Congress.
I won’t ever forget meeting with my congressman and listening to his argument that he feared losing his seat if he should vote to support that bill. My two friends heard the same message. Ultimately, however, that important law passed, as we know.
We had been back for only one day — Nov. 22, 1963 — when a whispered rumor raced across campus. President Kennedy had been shot while riding in an open car in Dallas. We hurried to radios and television for confirmation and learned the awful news that the president had been killed.
Like others, I showed up for my 2 o’clock political science class led by Professor Fred Harrigan. A tall, well-built Irishman with a booming voice, he entered the classroom on this day silently, and in a voice barely above a whisper, choking back tears, explained that he could not possibly meet with us today, and dismissed us.
“Where were you when . . .?” becomes the question commonly asked following such events that alter our lives. Each new generation recalls its own particular events: the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001; man walking on the moon on July 20, 1969. I was seven years old and still clearly remember where I was and what I was doing when we learned that Pearl Harbor was bombed on Dec. 7, 1941.
Such events remain burned into our memories for a lifetime. They stay with us, become part of us. They change our lives. I celebrate the fact that they remain in our memory. I won’t ever forget what happened on Nov. 22, 1963. I want to remember.