Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

JFK Visit Lives On

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

JFK Visit Lives On

Article excerpt

Carol Stryker did not understand the words of John F. Kennedy's speech. When Kennedy visited Paterson City Hall on a campaign stop in 1960, he was a 43-year-old senator from Massachusetts and Stryker was a 9-year-old from the west side of town.

She remembers so many people pressing onto the sidewalk in front of the Donut Kettle luncheonette on Washington Street that she couldn't breathe. She remembers her mother lifting her into an open convertible to prevent her from getting crushed.

But mostly she remembers Kennedy's red-brown hair.

"He walked through the crowd, and I was five feet away from him," Stryker said. "The one thing I really remember is his big shock of hair."

It's not much of a memory, just a few seconds in time. But those few seconds have been enough to grab the attention of generations of students at Paterson's John F. Kennedy High School, where Stryker has taught history since 1976. The school, which was already under construction when Kennedy was assassinated, claims to be the first in the nation to have been named for the 35th president.

A box stored in the school library contains a note from Jacqueline Kennedy politely declining an invitation to attend the school's opening ceremony in 1965. The school mascot is the Knights, after the Knights of Camelot. The student newspaper is called "The Torch" after Kennedy's inaugural speech, in which he said a torch was being passed to a new generation of leaders born in the 20th century. These connections to Kennedy make the anniversary of his death an important moment around the school.

"For kids today, things that happened more than 10 years ago seem ancient," Stryker said. "But because the school is named for him, it's still alive to the students."

As the 50th anniversary of Kennedy's assassination approaches, Stryker and other school officials are preparing a memorial service on Nov. 22 that will surround the bronze bust of Kennedy that stands on a pedestal inside the high school lobby. And students who already learned about Kennedy last year in Stryker's American History I class are preparing for a more in-depth look during History II.

Their takes on Kennedy and his legacy are anything but childlike.

"His assassination was a turning point in modern security and the modern presidency," said George Pasquella, 16, a junior at the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) academy at JFK High. "Ever since then, security around the president has been a lot tighter."

"He was important because he was the first president to advocate for civil rights," said Besan Jumhour, also a junior and 16.

Stryker sees the assassination as the harbinger of today's modern media and popular culture. A nation that once respected privacy and all kinds of authorities, from presidents to teachers and priests, became a nation of prying paparazzi and social media, one that sees conspiracies behind seemingly every official pronouncement. …

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