Transatlantic Youth Conference Honoring the 100th Birthday of President John F. Kennedy

Transatlantic Youth Conference Honoring the
100th Birthday of President John F. Kennedy
Berlin, October 17, 2017
CDA Kent Logsdon

Thank you, Britta Weck.

Thomas Liljeberg-Markuse (Managing Director, FEZ-Berlin), Bernd Grospitz, (Assistant Director, FEZ-Berlin), Michael Kunsmann (Program Manager, FEZ-Berlin), I would like to thank FEZ-Berlin for your hospitality.  We have worked with you before.  It’s always a pleasure.

I would also like to thank the State Institute for School and Media Berlin-Brandenburg, the Ministry of Education Brandenburg, and the Senate for Education Berlin for their initiative in working with FAZ to put together this conference.

I’m particularly happy to see my young friend Lukas and his fellow students from the Paul-Löbe-Schule and the 3. Gesamtschule Eisenhüttenstadt again.  I fondly remember your visit to the Embassy back in March when you interviewed my wife Michelle and me and took the photos that you all can see displayed here today.  We both really enjoyed your questions and your interest in German-American relations.

It is an honor and a privilege to join you and my fellow panel members to honor the centenary of President John F. Kennedy’s birthday.  But as far as I am concerned, the guests of honor at this conference are the students and teachers who are with us today.  Across the United States, a number of commemorative events and initiatives celebrating his legacy are taking place this year.  The goal of these programs is to inspire young Americans to find meaning in the values that defined the Kennedy presidency.

In Germany, and particularly here in Berlin, President Kennedy’s legacy is also significant.  This conference celebrating what would have been his 100th birthday is therefore very special.  Without a doubt, memories of JFK figure large in the imaginations of both of our countries – in particular for those above a certain age.  Over the course of the morning, I understand that you have examined his legacy in the context of the transatlantic partnership – then and now.

During the turbulent 1960s, Kennedy’s message was particularly meaningful for the generation of young people who came of age during and in the years after his presidency.  If you ask people today about JFK, however, their knowledge is more limited.  They may be familiar with phrases from his well-known inaugural address or the speech he gave at the Rathaus Schöneberg; or perhaps they have heard of the Peace Corps or the missile crisis.  Maybe they even know some of the gossip.  But for an increasing number of people, the JFK story is “history” and not “experience” of the promise, the challenges, or the tragedy of that era.

In my opinion, however, the most important aspect of the Kennedy legacy is still its impact on young people.  I would like to thank the Zeitzeugen who took the time to meet with you to share their impressions of the impact President Kennedy had on their lives and on their world.

There were literally thousands of Zeitzeugen in Berlin on the June day in 1963 when President Kennedy visited your city.  His visit was marked by a unique sense of hope and confidence.  However, I believe that President Kennedy was also inspired by Berliners.

In the speeches that he gave here, he drew upon the themes for which he was – and still is –renowned: how young and old alike must give of themselves for their fellow citizens; and how each one of us is part of something bigger than ourselves.  President Kennedy’s goals were large, but what he sought from individuals was often rather small.  Not everyone was expected to join the Peace Corps, or become an astronaut, or participate in the Freedom Rides.  But citizens were asked to do their part – to think about how they could improve their community or make another person’s life easier.  At the Freie Universität, he asked students what it means to be “citizens of the world.”  What does that mean today?

Part of any commemoration includes looking back at history.  But today I hope that you used this occasion to make that history come alive, to look forward, and to connect the ideals of that era to the opportunities and the challenges we face today.

Thank you, and I look forward to a lively discussion.