Friday Marks 50th Anniversary Of JFK's Assassination

SOMERS, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) – Friday marks 50 years since the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and some across the region are reflecting on the upcoming anniversary.

As WCBS 880’s Sean Adams reported, lessons of courage and compassion learned from the 35th president are emphasized every day at John F. Kennedy Catholic High School in Somers.

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There are portraits of JFK in the library, the office and the hallways of the Westchester County high school.

“With Kennedy, that was the beginning of Catholics starting to dominate in the political scene and at the national level. And I always remind our students of that fact,” school president Father Mark Vaillancourt told Adams. “Certainly he was the person or, what we would say, the member of the Catholic community who really brought us on to the national stage.”

“We try to inspire our young people to be leaders out in the community and to follow what I would consider a great legacy,” he added.

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Vaillancourt said the 50th anniversary of that dark day in Dallas will be a time of remembrance and reflection.

Art teacher Sister Janet Meehan first heard of the assassination on her college campus and said everything went quiet.

“I came out of a calculus midterm exam and when I came out onto the campus, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. There wasn’t a sole around. Not a sole on the entire campus,” she told Adams. “It was as if some great vacuum had picked everybody up and pulled them away.”

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Stories from Main Street - Photo: Evan Bindelglass / WCBS 880

Stories from Main Street – Photo: Evan Bindelglass / WCBS 880

Sister Meehan and Latin teacher Sister Barbara Heil were present for Kennedy High School’s dedication in 1968. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis came to bestow her blessing.

“She sat on the stage with her legs crossed as a lady should, and as my speech teacher taught us, made a puddle with her hands and sat there and never moved the entire time,” Sr. Meehan said.

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“The youngsters were all lined up out there in front to be a guard of honor for her. She was extremely gracious and very, very well composed but she was very friendly, went around to all the classrooms, sat on the stage perfectly still,” Sr. Heil said. “She didn’t speak to the audience but she was there and her presence was felt and she was very impressed with what we had done to set up for her.”

Today, students study different aspects of the Kennedy presidency as part of their rigorous curriculum.

Freshmen examine leadership, sophomores learn about foreign policy, the Cold War and the Cuban Missile Crisis and juniors study domestic policy, civil rights and social justice.

“You need courage and you need compassion in dealing with such serious topics,” history chair Samantha Black told Adams.

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