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The Spirit of the Class of 1964

“Where were you on the afternoon of November 22, 1963?”

Every member of the Class of 1964 will remember that day vividly, no matter how many years go by, as the day that President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was assassinated. Having spent more time on campus during the thousand days of the Kennedy administration than any other class, we were the Cornell students most marked by the idealism and enthusiasm that our young president brought to the office and to our country. We were the first beneficiaries of Kennedy’s efforts to tap the leadership potential of America’s youth with such programs as the Peace Corps and the White House Summer Seminar. We were witness to his election and inauguration our freshman year, and as seniors watched as his funeral cortege made its way to Arlington National Cemetery.

In response to the sense of loss we felt then, and to perpetuate our slain President’s commitment to service, the Class of 1964 established the John F. Kennedy Award as the expression of deeply-held beliefs that touched us all, in spite of our broad diversity. With hope for the future, we have chosen to support Cornell graduates’ efforts in the field of public service. Rather than donate more concrete manifestations of our generosity such as gates, benches, or trees to the campus, we use our class’ funds each year to foster the career of Cornell students who exhibit a dedication and idealism similar to that which we ourselves experienced as representatives of “the Kennedy generation.”

Throughout his presidency, John Kennedy fought to bring together the intellectual knowledge of our nation’s college and university scholars with the practical abilities of politicians and statesmen in order to provide the best leadership for our country. The Kennedy Award expresses the strong commitment our class feels to the support of Cornell graduates with both the desire and demonstrated ability to participate in this combination of intellectual and political endeavor.

However, the Class of ‘64’s overarching commitment to public service is not limited to the Kennedy Award. Many members of our class have already shown this by the dedication they have demonstrated in their lives and the contributions they have made to others. Through a variety of career choices, some in government or law, others in less obviously related fields such as education, business, or volunteer work, the members of our class have made a difference over the years, both to local communities across the nation and to the country at large. The general character of the Class of ’64 is apparent in this dedication to public service – a value that consistently seems to influence our choices.

Gradually, through the years since we graduated, our country’s belief in political leadership has become progressively more eroded. We try to remember that when we were undergraduates “politics” did not seem to us a dirty word, the foreign service was a desirable career path, and patriotism was a motivation we could admit to without embarrassment or fear of being misunderstood. With every year our country’s need grows ever more acute for dedicated college graduates in the fields of government and public service, working to help solve the serious social problems which continue to prevail and increase. Our class champions this cause, both by individual example and by our annual gift of the John F. Kennedy Memorial Award.