50 years since JFK’s challenge

Again, another editorial column I wrote to help with the editorial pages in the upcoming weeks. I think it is going in Friday, Jan. 21 paper. No signature since it is supposed to represent the newspaper’s viewpoint.

Fifty years have passed since the inauguration of our nation’s youngest president, John F. Kennedy. The same year that Kennedy came in the presidency as the first Catholic, our nation’s first black president, Barack Obama came into the world. His presidency reflects one fulfillment of the challenges Kennedy issued at his inauguration.

On the cusp of the country’s collision with the quest for civil rights, Kennedy challenged those who wanted to see a difference to ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.

With his life and presidency truncated with an assassin’s bullet, Kennedy never saw the changes and advances of the past five decades. Not all received a warm welcome: The civil rights movement left the decade of the 60s in turmoil but paved the way to opening the door to offices and businesses across the nation including the White House. In 1981 Sandra Day O’Connor became the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court in 1981. In 1983, Dr. Sally Ride became the first American woman in space on the shuttle Challenger.

Kennedy came to the helm of the country at the height of the cold war. In his speech he acknowledged the need for nuclear weapons while striving to reduce that need. A mere five presidents later, Ronald Reagan demanded and saw the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989.

Weighing the extreme financial costs, Kennedy challenged the nation to land a man on the moon in this generation. The moon landing came within the decade because politicians voted to fund the research and scientists invested the time, energy and ingenuity to that end. Ultimately we all benefited as researchers improved computer technology, communication satellites and invented items to serve the astronauts on their space flights.

The technological advances our nation and the world has seen in the past 50 years defy imagination: One device captures the essence of a half century of change: A hand-held cell phone with Internet access, a digital camera and storage for hundreds of songs.

Kennedy also vowed, “We shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” That still holds true even though as a nation we exchanged communism in the East for terrorism from the Mid-East.

Many have stepped up to Kennedy’s challenge and made a difference in the nation and world, yet more advances are needed. Education continues to lag. The number of couples marrying and staying married has steadily declined since the 1960s impoverishing thousand of children in single parent homes. Our aging infrastructure continues to need updating. Too many ask what else their country will do for them as they wait for their government check.

Individuals have done much to advance the life style in the United States of America but Kennedy’s call for participation rings as true today as it did 50 years ago. “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”