John F. Kennedy Centennial Celebration an Opportunity to Strengthen Civic Engagement

“Ask Not What Your Country Can Do For You – Ask What You Can Do For Your Country.” – President John F. Kennedy, 1961

This year marks the 100-year anniversary of the birth of one of the most celebrated presidents in our nation’s history, John F. Kennedy. To commemorate the occasion, the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation has launched a year-long initiative to honor his legacy by encouraging youth to get more involved in their communities, and to better understand how government works.

The move is in response to the alarming decline in young people who understand their rights and responsibilities as members of a vibrant, free society, and who participate in civic life today. The John F. Kennedy Library Foundation believes that increasing awareness through a more involved citizenry is critical to the future of a fully functioning democracy.

“If young people are not aware of how government works they will not get involved, have faith in government or vote at the same rates,” said Steve Rothstein, Executive Director of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation.

Recent statistics bear this out:

  • When John Kennedy was in office, Pew Research findings showed that 75 percent of Americans trusted their government. Last year, according to a comparable study, public confidence had plummeted to 19 percent.
  • Tufts University’s Tisch School reported that, in 2014, voter turnout among young people, which failed to reach 20 percent, was the lowest it has been in 40 years. What’s more, the same study says that the proportion of youth registered to vote — just 46.7% — is also at a 40-year low.

To promote civic engagement, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum and the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation have teamed up to prepare non-partisan and free online-educational resources that focus on government and civics during the Kennedy administration.

One of President Kennedy’s most enduring legacies was his clarion call to all Americans to take ownership of their government by getting more involved. In his famous inaugural address, he called upon American citizens to be stakeholders in making the United States and the world a better place. He encouraged others – whether they considered themselves “citizens of America or citizens of  the world” — to think deeply about how we can help and what we can share.

“President Kennedy inspired a generation that transformed America – and they in turn passed that inspiration on to their children and grandchildren,” said Jack Schlossberg, President Kennedy’s grandson. “Now, as we mark the Centennial of my grandfather’s birth, we renew his call for service, courage, innovation, and inclusion, and help a new generation use his example to embrace the challenges of our time.”

More information on the initiative, how to get involved, and educational resources are available at the links below:

JFK Centennial


About the Centennial

JFK Library – Education

JFK Library – Resources

Patrick Kerr is a writer on the Office of Communications and Outreach communications development team.

Photo at the top: President John F. Kennedy (at lectern) delivers an address on world peace and nuclear disarmament during commencement exercises at American University. Left to right: Reverend Warren H. Bright, Jr., Minister of Glenwood Methodist Church in Columbus, Ohio; Reverend Charles R. Smyth, Headmaster of the Pennington School in Pennington, New Jersey (mostly hidden behind American flag); John S. Myers, Dean of Washington School of Law (seated in back, partially hidden); unidentified; President Kennedy; and Donald Derby, Dean of Administration (mostly hidden, right of lectern). John M. Reeves Athletic Center, American University, Washington, D.C. Photo courtesy of Cecil Stoughton, White House/John Fitzgerald Kennedy Library, Boston.

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