President Barack Obama on Wednesday topped off a day honoring the legacy of John F. Kennedy by praising the late president's family for continuing his spirit of service and idealism in the decades after his death.
Mandel Ngan / AFP - Getty Images
US President Barack Obama speaks during a dinner honoring the Medal of Freedom recipients on November 20, 2013 at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington, DC.
“In his idealism -- sober, squared jawed idealism -- we are reminded that the power to change this country is ours,” Obama said at a dinner honoring this year’s Presidential Medal of Freedom recipients.
“It is a legacy continued by his brothers and sisters who gave us a more gentle and compassionate country,” Obama said.
The Presidential Medal of Freedom, established by President Kennedy less than a year before his assassination in 1963, is meant to honor citizens who have made an “especially meritorious contribution” to society. This year’s ceremony came as the country prepares to mourn the fiftieth anniversary of Kennedy’s death on November 22, 1963.
Wednesday afternoon, the Obamas and Clintons visited Arlington National Cemetery to lay a wreath on the assassinated president’s grave. At the dinner, Obama praised Kennedy’s decision to forgo a life of ease and instead “chose to live in the arena.”
The Kennedy’s, many of whom have also chosen a life in the public eye, have helped keep JFK’s legacy alive both in the United States and abroad, Obama said.
“The thousands of people in San Francisco who just helped a little boy recovering from cancer live out his super hero dreams, that is part of that spirit,” the president said. “The Marines deploying relief after a devastating typhoon all across an ocean, people checking on their neighbors after a tornado, the families across the country who will spend thanksgiving cooking feats so others less fortunate might eat, that’s part of the spirit.”
Before the president took the stage he was introduced by Kennedy’s 20-year-old grandson, Jack Schlossberg, whose mother, Caroline Kennedy, recently headed to Japan as the United States ambassador.
“In guaranteeing that we celebrate civilians in this capacity, my grandfather displayed his faith that our quest for knowledge and progress would not be deterred, and he reminded us that everyone has the capacity to explore, to imagine and to give back to our great nation no matter the path we chose,” Schlossberg said.
First published November 20 2013, 6:09 PM