About the National Archives

Welcome Remarks for JFK: A Vision for America


Welcome Remarks for JFK: A Vision for America
McGowan Theater, National Archives Building
May 3, 2017


Good afternoon, and welcome to the William G. McGowan Theater at the National Archives. I’m David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, and I’m delighted to welcome you to today’s program in honor of John F. Kennedy’s centennial—“JFK: A Vision for America.”

Whether you are here in the McGowan Theater or watching on YouTube or C-SPAN, thank you for joining us.

Before we get started, I’d like to let you know about two upcoming programs here in the McGowan Theater.

Tomorrow evening at 7 p.m., author David Dalin will speak about the eight Jewish men and women who have served or who currently serve as justices of the United States Supreme Court, a topic he explores in his new book The Jewish Justices of the Supreme Court, from Brandeis to Kagan – Their Lives and Legacies. A book signing will follow the program.

And on Tuesday, May 23, at noon, Marie Jenkins Schwartz will be here to discuss her latest book, Ties That Bound: Founding First Ladies and Slaves. Schwartz examines the relationships that developed between the earliest First Ladies from Virginia and the enslaved persons in their households. A book signing will also follow this program.

To learn more about these and all of our public programs and exhibits, consult our monthly Calendar of Events in print or online at Archives.gov. There are copies in the lobby—along with a sign-up sheet so you can receive it by regular mail or email. You’ll also find brochures about other National Archives programs and activities.

Another way to get more involved with the National Archives is to become a member of the National Archives Foundation. The Foundation supports the work of the agency, especially its education and outreach programs. Pick up your application for membership in the lobby or become a member online at archivesfoundation.org.

When John F. Kennedy was born on May 29, 1917, the second of nine children, the young 20th century wasn’t that different from the late 19th century. Automobiles, airplanes, and motion pictures were still novelties, and Civil War veterans were still meeting for reunions. The United States had just entered World War I, though, and American doughboys would soon be shipping off to France. Jack Kennedy’s lifetime saw some of the most extraordinary and rapid changes in American life.

His generation, as he declared at his Presidential inauguration, was “a new generation of Americans . . . unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed.”

Today’s guests—President Kennedy’s nephew Stephen Kennedy Smith and historian Douglas Brinkley—have brought together JFK’s most important speeches, covering topics that still resonate today: civil rights, the environment, scientific exploration, national security, and much more.

Throughout this centennial year, organizations and individuals across the country will observe this milestone anniversary and reflect on Kennedy’s legacy. The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston is taking the lead with a major exhibition opening on May 26 and a calendar full of events and activities. Here at the National Archives Building, we’ve installed a special display upstairs in the Public Vaults about President Kennedy’s creation of the Peace Corps, which I hope you’ll take a look at before you leave today.

To find out about more events, exhibits, and commemorations around the country, visit the JFK centennial website at jfkcentennial.org.

But today we’re privileged to hear from President Kennedy’s own nephew, Stephen Kennedy Smith, and historian Douglas Brinkley about JFK’s vision for America.

Stephen Kennedy Smith is a lecturer at the Sloan School of Management as well as a fellow at the Connection Science Group at MIT. He is a board member of the John F. Kennedy Library, and the Joseph P. Kennedy Foundation. He has served on the staff of the Senate Judiciary and Foreign Relations committees and is a three-time recipient of the Danforth Award for Excellence in Teaching at Harvard University, where he taught at Harvard Law School.

Douglas Brinkley is a professor of history at Rice University, the CNN Presidential Historian, and a contributing editor at Vanity Fair and Audubon. He is the author of a number of bestselling books, including Cronkite, which won the Sperber Prize for best book in journalism, and The Great Deluge, which won the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award. Brinkley has also written books on Theodore Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan.

Our moderator, Susan Swain, is president and co-CEO of C-SPAN. She helped launch The Washington Journal, BookTV and American History TV and has been involved in the creation of numerous C-SPAN history series, such as American Presidents, The Lincoln-Douglas Debates, and First Ladies. She is a two-time winner of the Vanguard Award, the cable industry’s highest professional recognition. and has also been recognized by her industry as a CableTV Pioneer.

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Stephen Kennedy Smith, Douglas Brinkley, and Susan Swain.