“We have enough divisiveness in our country over social issues, so I’m not going to go there with you.”
Poetry trumps politics in Caroline Kennedy’s keynote talk at Judson University’s World Leaders Forum
By Tom Siebert
SCHAUMBURG, Ill., Oct. 8, 2019 —Caroline Kennedy comes from the most fabled political clan in American history.
But the author, attorney, and diplomat conducted a clinic on how to avoid family feuds over politics last night, telling stories, reciting poetry, and even playing trivia with an audience of more than 500 people at Judson University’s World Leaders Forum at the Renassaince Schaumburg Hotel and Convention Center.
“We have enough divisiveness in our country over social issues, so I’m not going to go there with you,” said Ms. Kennedy, after conservative cultural commentator Eric Metaxas asked her how she reconciled her Catholic faith with her pro-choice stance on abortion.
The subject was politely changed by Mr. Metaxas, the nationally syndicated radio host of “Socrates in the City,” a series of conversations on “life, God, and other small topics.”
“Your mother did a really great job of raising you and your brother,” the interviewer told her, referring to the late First Lady Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy and John F. Kennedy Jr., who was killed in a small plane crash in July 1999.
“My mother was somebody who was incredibly true to herself and that was a great example to my brother and me,” recalled Ms. Kennedy, who served as U.S. ambassador to Japan during the second term of President Barack Obama.
She noted that her family’s ties to that country dated to August 1943, when a Navy patrol boat commanded by her father, John F. Kennedy, was struck by a Japanese destroyer, killing two crewmen and stranding 11 others on a Samoan island for six days.
“When I was there, many older people knew of my father’s war record, but what they didn’t know is he corresponded with the crew of the Japanese destroyer throughout the 1950s,” Ms. Kennedy said. “He had hoped to visit Japan during his second term and would have been the first sitting president to do that.”
President Kennedy was killed by an assassin’s rifle bullets while riding in a motorcade in downtown Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, five days short of Caroline’s sixth birthday.
She expressed her pride and privilege in fulfilling her father’s legacy of reconciliation in May 2016, when she accompanied President Obama to Hiroshima, Japan, the city that was decimated by a U.S. atomic bomb in August 1945, expediting the end of World War II.
“When I was the ambassador to Japan, Americans often approached me and recited my father’s presidential inaugural address from 1961,” said Ms. Kennedy. “This always made me proud because the quote ‘ask what you can do for your country’ is emblematic of the service and generosity that makes America special.”
She traced the family’s history of service to her grandmother, Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, who “believed that we should be not just hearers of the faith but doers of the faith.”
Rose Kennedy’s father was mayor of Boston and her husband, Joseph P. Kennedy, was U.S. ambassador to Great Britain during the 1930s.
At the World Leaders Forum, Caroline singled out her late aunt, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, for founding the Special Olympics, “right here in Chicago.”
And she gave a high grade to Judson University’s Road to Independent Living, Spiritual Formation, and Employment (RISE) program, which provides a college experience for students with intellectual disabilities.
Ms. Kennedy and Mr. Metaxas, acutely aware of their political polarism, joked and cajoled each other throughout their hourlong, lively conversation.
“What does the word America mean to you?” the host asked his guest.
“You go first,” she quipped.
“I’ve written a book on the subject!” he shot back, referring to his New York Timesbest-seller, “If You Can Keep It:The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty and Miracles.”
The two talkers found common ground on the subject of poetry, Ms. Kennedy having published three anthologies of poems, some of which her extended family members would recite or illustrate during Christmases.
She fondly recalled her “Uncle Teddy,” the late U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), reciting “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere” at her book signings.
And she drew laughs from the audience when she recounted her young son John getting off easy on a family assignment when he memorized “The Red Wheelbarrow,” a three-line ode that Mr. Metaxas knew was written by American poet William Carlos Williams.
Trivia came up again when Ms. Kennedy remembered that the Secret Service would ask her and young John Jr. questions “to keep us quiet” such as what are the five state capitals that begin with the letter “A.”
Some sharp members of the Schaumburg audience shouted out the answers: Albany, Annapolis, Atlanta, Augusta, and Austin.
Then the discussion turned serious, to sacrifice, a subject that the tragedy-stricken Kennedy family knows all too well.
Caroline’s other uncle on her dad’s side, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy (D-N.Y.), was gunned down after winning the California presidential primary on June 5, 1968, dying the next day at Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles.
And to this day, all of her many cousins are involved in service in some way.
“Our democracy is something that is really precious, and we should treat it that way,” she asserted. “It really does inspire me to want to give back, to be worthy of that sacrifice and legacy that has gone before us.”
Mr. Metaxas concurred. “God blesses us so that we’ll be a blessing.”
The eighth edition of Judson’s World Leadership Forum drew rave reviews from students.
“I loved the presentation,” said Bryan Tripp, a junior majoring in music and business administration. “I thought it was a real fun evening, lighthearted, not at all what I expected it to be.”
Sophomore Ce’Nedra Foss, a psychology major, agreed. “I loved the witty banter between them. It was an actual conversation that I felt I was a part of.
The goal of the World Leaders Forum is to present Judson students and the Chicagoland community with an opportunity to be inspired by significant thought leaders.
Proceeds fund Judson Leadership Scholarships and innovative entrepreneurial activities, as well as support ongoing operations of the Forum.
Previous keynote speakers at the annual event were former President George W. Bush, ex-Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, former Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev, ex-British Prime Minister Tony Blair, former Mexican President Felipe Calderón, Her Majesty Queen Noor of Jordan, former U.S. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, and ex-Vermont Gov. Howard Dean.
Located in Elgin since 1963, Judson affords students a Christian, liberal arts and sciences education through its Bachelor of Arts degrees in more than 60 majors, minors, and graduate programs. The university also offers online courses, in addition to certification and accelerated adult-degree programs. For more information, visit www.JudsonU.edu.