ABC News' Sunlen Miller reports:
On the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s inauguration, President Obama said were it not for “unfinished life” and “vision” of the nation’s 35th president, he would not be standing up as the 44th president.
“We cannot forget we are the heirs of this president who showed us what is possible,” President Obama said from the Kennedy Center this evening. “Because of his vision, more people prospered, more people served, our union was made more perfect. Because of that vision, I can stand here tonight as president of the United States.”
The president said that there is “something about that day,”Jan. 20, 1961, Kennedy’s inauguration, that feels “immediate, feels new and urgent and exciting despite the graininess of the 16-millimeter newsreels that recorded it for posterity."
The president described a “handsome Bostonian, summoning a generation to service and a nation to greatness,” that would lead to a speech that would soon become part of the “American canon.”
“And there’s the crowd," he said, "bundled up for the cold, making their way through streets white with snow, full of expectation — a nation, feeling young again, its mood brightened by the promise of a new decade.”
The president said that he knows JFK less as a man and more as an icon. The memories of Kennedy’s inauguration he learned through the adoration of others.
“I confess, I don’t have my own memories of that day," President Obama said. "I wasn’t born until later that year. What I know of that day and the 1,000 days that followed -– what I know of President Kennedy –- came from a mother and grandparents who adored him; from books I read and classes I took; from growing up in a country still mourning its beloved leader whose name was spoken with reverence.”
The president said that so often people born into wealth, like Kennedy, could easily seek a life of luxury and ease – but not Kennedy.
“He chose a life of leadership," the president said, "fired not by naïve optimism, but committed realism; ‘idealism,’ as his wife Jackie put it, ‘without illusions.’ That is the idealism -– soaring but sober –- that inspired the country and the world one half century ago.”
As the president marked the anniversary, he also noted with sadness the passing of Sargent Shriver.
“His legacy is written in the villages around the world that have clean water or a new school through the Peace Corps,” Obama said. “It’s written into the lives of all the children in our own country whose fortunes have been lifted through Head Start. And it will endure in the work of his children who are living out his legacy of service – and our thoughts and prayers are with them tonight.”