Senator Edward M. Kennedy
June 6, 1964
I would first of all like to express my deep appreciation to the faculty, the administration, and the students of Assumption College for inviting me to participate in these ceremonies and for honoring me with this degree. I am especially grateful because this honor comes from one of the unique and outstanding colleges in the country. A college which for 60 years has been a center of both culture and faith, and a great symbol of our common heritage. Every college is proud of its traditions, and the older they are, the prouder they are.
A few years ago Premier Khrushchev visited England and took a tour with the rector of Oxford University. At one point, the rector showed him a beautiful set of carillon bells in a tower. He told Khrushchev that they were only played on May Day---the first of May. Mr. Khrushchev was very pleased. He asked: “Do you play them because the first of May is the anniversary of the Russian Revolution?” And the rector replied: “We have been playing them on the first of May for over 600 years.”
I cannot come here today—to a college which has had such a close association with my family--- to a college which has been so kind to all of us, without thanking you, from the bottom of my heart, for the prayers you have offered in our behalf in the months since last November. My brother had very special memories of Assumption College. I remember clearly that day in 1961 when, on his visit to Paris, he spoke about your college to the city council of the city of Paris. And I know how proud he was to be able to draw from the State of Massachusetts, a common bond of culture with the French people.
I also want to take this opportunity to congratulate Fr. Desautels on the important new responsibilities he is undertaking as leader of the Assumptionist order in this country. The order’s gain is the College’s loss but I know that his guidance and leadership will still be available to you in the future years.
I come to you tonight from the city of Washington, where the senate is now in its 3 rd month of deliberation on the Civil Rights Bill. This is an extremely important bill that is not already the law in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. It is a wise bill and a moderate bill, which seeks to turn grievances of our Negro citizens away from demonstrations in the streets and into the courts of law. I am confident that, despite the demonstration of extremism on both sides of the Civil Rights issue, the responsible leadership in the country, both white and Negro, will steer this bill to passage and make it a landmark in the struggle for equal opportunity for all Americans.
I would like to speak to you this afternoon about the role of the college in the public life of our commonwealth and our nation. In the early days of our republic, the world of scholarship and the world of public affairs existed side by side. The ones who wrote our constitution were teachers, authors and lawyers. They were the intellectual leaders of the nation.
President Kennedy reminded us of this on the night in 1960 when he held a dinner in the White House for every living American who had won the Nobel Prize. The president remarked that the dinner had assembled the greatest collection of brains and talent ever gathered for an evening at the White House… with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.
But over the years, the academic world and the world of public affairs have tended to drift apart. Politicians have become concerned with the on-going affairs of business and community life. Scholarship has become more concerned with reflection, with history, with the external values of our culture and religious heritage. Yet each profession envied the other. I am sure there are many professors of political science who feel they have the answers to our nation’s problems and wish they had the power to put their solutions across. And I know there are many politicians like myself, who enjoy nothing better than a give-and-take session with students - - -something professors can do everyday.
I entered the public life at a young age. My college training was not far behind, and so it was natural for me to look to universities for assistance. I have been extremely fortunate to receive help, in my political activity, from professors in many colleges here in the commonwealth. Almost every week, I find in my mail an important report on some important problem, prepared by someone in the academic community here in Massachusetts.
A man in public life has so many demands upon his time that he has not enough chance to think deeply about the complex issues of the day. The fresh ideas, the landmark ideas often come to us from the colleges, where men have time to think and reflect.
In 1958, John Kenneth Galbraith, a professor at Harvard, wrote a book called, The Affluent Society. It was a best seller. In 1960, his ideas were issues in the campaign. In 1964, they have become public policy. This is altogether proper. Professors and politicians may be different kinds of people with different ways of working and thinking, but in the end, we are both servants of the public. The more we can cooperate, the better we can accomplish our goals.
The Catholic Colleges of America have a long tradition of public service. Father Hesburgh of Notre Dame sits on the civil rights commission and has been extremely active in forming the Peace Corps. Father Joyce of Boston College sponsors an important seminar each year on community development in Massachusetts. I know that this College has made an important contribution not only to the Worcester community but also through the French Teaching Training Program under the National Defense Education Act. to the National purpose. These activities are in the finest tradition of the priesthood. Conscious of his flock but dedicated to the welfare of all people.
I feel that all colleges can make a contribution. That students as well as their professors can be in the thick of the fight for social justice. I think it is extremely important that some of the effort that we have devoted to making Massachusetts a leader in the field of education should now be used in making it a leader in the field of good government. Over the next two years we shall be building the John. F. Kennedy Library in Boston as a memorial to my brother. The interest and support that many of you have shown in this project is most appreciated One of the most important purposes of this library will be to help in this field: to bring the world of politics and scholarship together. Senators will come to seminars, professors will talk with practicing politicians. Students will learn from both, and from this association will come the understanding, the cooperation, and the leadership that is vitally needed in the modern world. I hope that many of you will be able to participate in the programs of this library. I know it would have made my brother very proud to know that graduates of Assumption College, a place he admired so much, were interested in carrying the tradition he began.
n your education you have been very fortunate. You have prepared to meet the demands which are being made upon you by modern, social and economic life and also to live your lives in conformity with the will of God. I hope that from your training here, you will take away not just knowledge but commitment- a commitment to spiritual values and a sense of service and dedication.
Ted Kennedy delivers speech at the Robert and Janet Testa Science Center