JFK: 50 years on, millennials cross-examine boomer veneration

Wed Nov 20, 2013 5:54pm EST
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By Lisa Maria Garza

DALLAS (Reuters) - In a Dallas college classroom about six miles from where John F. Kennedy was gunned down half a century ago, members of the millennial generation have been learning why the assassination was a life-altering moment for so many in the baby-boom generation.

For years, Tom Stone has offered a course at Southern Methodist University designed to teach students what matters about the Kennedy presidency and that fateful November 22 in 1963.

"Most students, it's fair to say, just know that JFK is the president who got shot. Beyond that, they're pretty much blank slates," Stone said.

This semester he has been co-teaching a special course with political science professor Dennis Simon to coincide with the 50th anniversary. One difficulty is how to convey the larger turmoil created by the assassination to students with no frame of reference for cold war paranoia, the turbulent 1960s, and the romanticism attached to 1,000 days described as "Camelot."

"They don't know much about his presidency or why anyone would have wanted him dead," Stone said.

Many millennials - those who came of age after 2000 - will meet the anniversary with a shrug. Some may watch the Zapruder film of the motorcade on YouTube or follow the "#JFK" hashtag on Twitter.

For Garrett Fisher, a 19-year-old student enrolled in the SMU Kennedy course, the occasion is a chance to reflect on a president who steered the nation away from the brink of nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis and whose personal failings included extramarital affairs.

"Our professors are exposing us to different writers who show multiple images of him as a person, not just a president, and we have to interpret that for ourselves," Fisher said.   Continued...

A combination shows (L) flower arrangements and spectators lining the street along Elm Street during a reconstruction of the Dealey Plaza crime scene by the United States Secret Service in this undated photograph taken in Dallas, Texas in 1963 and (R) visitors to Dealey Plaza walking along Elm and Commerce Streets in Dallas, Texas on November 10, 2013. REUTERS/Dallas Police Department/Dallas Municipal Archives/University of North Texas/Handout