On the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s death, we remember the Massachusetts man who inspired—and continues to inspire—the country. Here are a few of Kennedy’s MIT connections.
Newly in office, President Kennedy recorded a message in 1961 congratulating MIT on its centennial and addressing the increasingly important role of education in the life of the nation. Recorded in the White House on April 6, Kennedy’s voice was played two days later during MIT’s Centennial celebration. Watch the video with Kennedy’s message against footage of the centennial procession and images of Professor Walt Whitman Rostow, who Kennedy appointed as deputy special assistant to the President for national security affairs, and former MIT President Jerome Wiesner, who served as Kennedy’s special assistant for science and technology.
Kennedy Brought MIT to Washington
Wiesner’s 1994 obituary in The Tech noted his work with the late president in the first sentence and detailed the MIT president’s impact: “As Kennedy’s chief adviser and planner for science issues, he worked on the treaty banning all but underground nuclear tests that was signed by the United States, Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom in 1963….Wiesner returned to the Institute in 1964 shortly after Kennedy’s assassination.”
The MIT Libraries own a copy of JFK’s inaugural address, embossed with the Great Seal of the United States in gold plus a handwritten message in blue ink: “To James Killian Jr., with appreciation and best wishes, John Kennedy, Christmas 1961.” The presidential letters archive holds a Kennedy letter thanking Killian for agreeing to serve as chair of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board.
MIT and Harvard announced plans in 2007 to expand the Kennedy Scholarship Fund, a program that has brought some 432 British students to MIT or Harvard for graduate work, including British Labour Party politician David Miliband SM ′90.
According to The Tech’s article published November 26, 1963, MIT classes were cancelled at 3:15 p.m., Friday, November 22, shortly after the assassination. In observance of the day of national mourning proclaimed by President Lyndon Johnson, a memorial convocation was held in Kresge Auditorium Nov. 25. Here’s an excerpt from the article:
Immediately after the death of President Kennedy had been announced, Dr. James R. Killian Jr., Chairman of the Corporation, issued the following statement: “Our nation and civilized men over all the world have suffered a catastrophic and incalculable loss. Nothing can mitigate the tragedy of this barbarous event or the overriding sorrow we feel for the family and friends of our late President. But as a great leader and a superbly dedicated man, he would have counseled us to stand steady, to re-affirm our deep commitment to all things noble and sacred in life, and to gather together in strong support of our new President.”
The statement of President Stratton, issued Friday afternoon, read in part: “The assassination of President Kennedy is an enormous tragedy for the United States and the entire free world. This cruel and irrational act has taken from us a truly great President at the height of his powers. All Americans must feel a deep personal sorrow, and our hearts go out to Mrs. Kennedy and the Kennedy family. We have lost in a difficult hour the leader whose every approach to the great problems that beset us was guided by a keen intelligence and an ennobling vision of the highest aspirations of the American people.”
News of the assassination of the President spread quickly among the MIT undergraduate body. Shocked students clustered around radios and television sets, awaiting the grim developments. A staggering load of telephone calls went through the MIT switchboard. Professor Carleton Tucker, administrator of the Institute telephone system, stated that the load was “one and-a-half times any previous peak.”