John Kennedy, Barack Obama: 2 Inaugurations and 2 Generations of Dreamers

Editor’s Note: I wrote this post in 2009, just before the Obama Inauguration; today, the 2nd anniversary of that day and the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s, seems like a good day to share it with you.

I seem to be living in the WayBack Machine this year: lots of memories of 1968 and even 1963.  Now as January 20, 2009 approaches, yet another looms.  January 20, certainly, but in 1961.

Somewhere, way in the back that day, probably at least a block beyond the ceremony, stands an almost-fifteen-year-old girl and her mother.  Fresh off an overnight train from Pittsburgh, having arrived at Union Station in time to watch the Army flame-throwers melt a blizzard’s worth of snow on the streets of the inaugural route, they make their way to their parade seats: in the bleachers, way down near the Treasure Building.  

I spent most of 1960 besotted with John Kennedy.  And Jackie.  And Caroline.  And all the other Kennedys who came with them.  Most of my lunch money went to bus fare as, after school, I shuttled back and forth “to town” to volunteer in the local JFK headquarters.  I even had a scrapbook of clippings about Kennedy and his family.  

So.  My parents surprised me with these two parade tickets.  My mom and I took the overnight train and arrived around dawn Inauguration morning.  We couldn’t get into the swearing-in itself, of course, so we went to a bar that served breakfast (at least that’s how I remember it) and watched the speech on their TV, then made our way along the snowy sidewalks to our seats, arriving in time to watch the new president and his wife roll by, to see his Honor Guard, the last time it would be comprised solely of white men (since Kennedy ordered their integration soon after) in time to see the floats and the Cabinet members and the bands and the batons.

It was very cold.  We had no thermos, no blankets, nothing extra, and my mom, God bless her, never insisted that we go in for a break, never complained or made me feel anything but thrilled.  Which I was.   As the parade drew to a close, and the light faded, we stumbled down the bleachers, half-frozen, and walked the few blocks to the White House fence. I stood there, as close to the fence as I am now to my keyboard, and watched our new president enter the White House for the first time as Commander in Chief.

That was half a century ago.  I can’t say it feels like yesterday, but it remains a formidable and cherished memory.  It was also a defining lesson on how to be a parent; it took enormous love and respect to decide to do this for me.  I was such a kid – they could have treated my devotion like a rock star crush; so young, they could have decided I would “appreciate it more” next time.  (Of course there was no next time.)   Instead, they gave me what really was the lifetime gift of being a part of history.  And showed me that my political commitment had value – enough value to merit such an adventure.

Who’s to say if I would have ended up an activist (I did)- and then a journalist (I did) – without those memories.  If I would have continued to act within the system rather than try to destroy it. (I did)  If I would have been the mom who took kids to Europe, brought them along on news assignments to Inaugurations and royal weddings and green room visits with the Mets (Yup, I did.)  I had learned to honor the interests and dreams of my children the way my parents had honored my own.  So it’s hard for me to tell parents now to stay home. 

My good friend, the wise and gifted PunditMom, advises “those with little children” to skip it, and since strollers and backpacks are banned for security reasons, I’m sure she’s right.  But if you’ve got a dreamer in your house, a young adult who has become a true citizen because of this election, I’d try to come.*

After all, he’s their guy.  What he does will touch their lives far more than it will ours.  Being part of this beginning may determine their willingness to accept the tough sacrifices he asks of them – at least that – and probably, also help to build their roles as citizens – as Americans – for the rest of their lives.  Oh — and will tell them that, despite curfews and learner’s permits, parental limit-setting and screaming battles, their parents see them as thinking, wise and effective people who will, as our new President promised them, help to change the world. 

*I know, I thought of Christina-Taylor Greene as I re-read this too. 

This post also appears in the forthcoming book PunditMom’s Mothers of Intention: How Women & Social Media Are Revolutionizing Politics in America.

Related Posts:

One Year of the Obama Presidency: What Do We Think?

Edward M. Kennedy – Liberalism Personified  1932 – 2009

Kennedy’s Legacy: 50 Years Later (VIDEO)

Photo credit: Cynthia Samuels


jane richmond
jane richmond7 years ago

JFK was one of a kind. Sadly we never got to see what RFK would have done had he had the chance.

Carl W.
Carl Coleman7 years ago

Recent poll for "Best President,' my top candidates were JFK, Obama, & Lincoln, with Bill Clinton very close 2nd.

Gloria W.
Gloria W.7 years ago

mmmmmmmmmmmm ...

Sean Connors
Sean Connors7 years ago

I lived with wonderful supportive working class parents to whom all thatJFK stood for was paramount; integration, government that benefits the little guy the needy, the people who need education or job training. Integration was stalled in my hometown until JFK came along. He spoke words of inspiration and led by example! It was a great loss when his life was prematurely ended and the country responded to the darkness with courage and light!

I voted for Barack Obama. I would vote for him over McCain again tomorrow, He does not share my vision of America, however, and I am saddened to say that! I preferred Hillary as I believed then, and I do now, yhat she had amuch more sharpened focus on the needs of the country, is wiser and would have chosen advisors who were distanced from Corporate America, while working with them. Barack Obama does not have a Liberal agenda anywhere except in his speeches and has a penchant for attracting advisors who appears to love programs which allow moneyed interests to "name their price"/Self diagnose/prescribe the medicine for their own ills (it is usually our money). Barack has one other fatal flaw!. He negotiates with himself! He sits down to hash out issues with his adversaries and in his opening remarks conceeds programs and laws that the country desperately needs

Manuela C.
Manuela C7 years ago

There will never be another JFK!

john hall
john hall7 years ago

Lynn C. iam glad you beleive in the pres crap , if you had really took time to hear the crap he spews , then in my opinion he's divided this country and only you and demos love him . in 2012 i think this country will pick a new pres and jimmy carter can say iam not the worst pres of all time .

Donald MacDonald
don MacDonald7 years ago

" * Pamela H. says
* Jan 20, 2011 6:24 PM

Donald you have a typical Right Wing black heart. Your comment was seditious and slanderous. It is comments like which send psychos off to assassinate. "

Actually Pamela its comments like " if they bring a knife, we'll bring a gun ", that sends " psychos off to assassinate ".

And what boob do you suppose said that ? Well, the boob is named Obama.

Thats a bit hard for you to take I know.

There is a man who also found that hard to take...he is astronaut Mark Kelly, husband of Gaqbby Giffords.

Here is a pic of him and the boob at the pep rally the boob organized.

A picture tells a thousand words.

BTW, I am not a right dawned on me a long time ago that a turkey has 2 wings.


Norm C.
Norm C7 years ago

I agree with most that Obama is not in the same league as JFK. While they both gave great speeches, Kennedy gave us hope and delivered on that hope. Obama has miserably failed to deliver. And all indications are that he will continue to cave in at every opportunity. I wish I were wrong.

Ralph R Sutton
Ralph R Sutton7 years ago

I wish President Obama were more like JFK, but I see little resemblance between them. JFK was a fighter with backbone and sadly Obama is not. Both had great ideas about what would be good for the country, but President Obama seems to lack the will to push for the change he promised us. I sometimes think my vote was wasted, but given the alternative there was no other choice because I certainly didn't want a continuation of the previous 8 years.

Vanan ha
Vanan ha7 years ago