The President that could have been

November 22, 1963. A day of grief. A day of tragedy. Many tears were spilled for John F. Kennedy, whose life was cut short when he was assassinated while driving through Dallas in an open convertible. Even some of the teachers at Canyon Vista remember this significant moment.

“And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country,” said John F. Kennedy at his inauguration on January 20, 1961. Photo illustration created by Kara Wilkinson

Language Arts teacher Ms. Olson was a student sitting in her 7th grade math class when it happened. “Mr. Campbell told us that President Kennedy had been shot. He said he couldn’t teach class, and we should be quiet and pray for the president and his family. At the end of that class, the office announced that the president had died, and school was canceled for the rest of the day. Even though school was let out, no one was cheering and excited. It was the most quiet exit I’ve ever experienced.”

Olson was shocked and scared when she heard the news. She said, “President Kennedy had visited my little town of 2,919 people during his presidential campaign, so I felt close to him. He was so young, handsome, and charismatic. That’s why I felt sad. I felt scared because it seemed impossible that this could happen in America.”

Coach Rice remembers the event. “I was very sad. I also remember watching the casket being carried to the Capitol rotunda to lie in state, the funeral, and procession from the National Cathedral to the Arlington Cemetery,” said Rice. “I vividly remember John-John’s salute to his dad when the casket passed by. The muffled drum cadence is still very eerie for me to hear.”

Mrs. Oliver lived in New Orleans at the time and her school had a holiday on the day of the funeral.I was overwhelmed with a sense of disbelief that a person could actually shoot a president,” said Oliver. “I will never forget all of the crying and confusion of my parents, teachers, and the people that I saw on TV. I especially remember feeling sadness for Mrs. Kennedy and the Kennedy children as I watched the funeral events.”

This tragedy affected our country greatly. America was in a state of mourning. Mrs. Apperson, who was living in Dallas at the time of the assassination, said, “Up until then, America, at least my world, was rather innocent. We had never experienced anything like this. It seems odd now, since we hear about bad things all the time, but back then, things like this just didn’t happen. The most important values to me are trust and honesty. Those values were shaken with Kennedy’s assassination.”

Rice agrees and stated, “We lost a bit of innocence. The reality of such an office, President of the United States, was no longer invincible.”

These Canyon Vista teachers are a part of the generation that was affected by the JFK assassination the most. Coach Reyna remarked, It changed our country from that of optimism to one of suspicion, especially for the younger people.”

Apperson expressed, “There was a feeling before he was killed that everything would be okay, that good would always triumph over evil. I think that belief was crushed. I was a teenager by the time Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy were killed and I can remember feeling a great sadness. There was a realization that there are really bad people in the world that will do really bad things to really good people. It makes you feel out of control. Things were about to change in America and for some people my age, Kennedy’s death marked the beginning of that change.”

Kennedy may have died on this fatal day 50 years ago, but one thing is certain: America will never forget him.