The music cut off abruptly in the dining hall. Students and faculty crowded around radios to hear the reports from Dallas. In Bapst Library’s auditorium, President Michael Walsh, S.J., led the campus in the rosary. He announced the news before the third mystery: President Kennedy was dead. R.O.T.C. cadets lowered the flag to half-mast. Professors cancelled classes, and clubs postponed events. Administrators called off the B.C.-B.U. football game, scheduled for the next day, to allow students to mourn the nation’s loss. Such was the campus scene described in the journal of freshman commuter student Philipe Thibodeau.
The assassination sent shockwaves across the country, but, for Boston College students, the loss was a personal one. Only a few months earlier, the president attended the university’s Centennial exercises. He had stood on stage in Alumni Stadium, unmistakably young and full of life, and spoke about the university’s youth, inspiring history, and bright future. Neither he nor the students he addressed could know that his own future was tragically limited.
Kennedy was a Harvard man, but he had a long history at Boston College. An important center for Boston Irish Catholicism, it was a key political base for Kennedy during his years in Congress. Reports in The Heights show that students ardently supported Kennedy from his earliest days in public office. They elected him by a landslide in every mock election, delighted in his speeches at campus events, and rushed to his defense whenever his policies were questioned. As Time succinctly put it in 1963, “Boston College watered the roots that grew the first Irish-Catholic U.S. President.”
The President could thank his family for the fruitful relationship he enjoyed with students at Boston College. Since his grandfather, John “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald had attended the school for a month in 1879, the paths of the family and the university often intersected. In many ways, they walked the same path from local to national prestige. Therefore, one can certainly understand the feelings of “hurt, almost tearful sadness, indignation and disgust,” that came over the campus on November 22, 1963.
Immediately after the assassination, students began fundraising to establish a fitting on-campus tribute to the late president. A memorial committee decided that donations would support the construction of a new “Human Relations Library,” serving as a “living memorial” to Kennedy’s legacy.
The goal proved too ambitious, and students quietly set it aside by 1965. Still, the brief moment of spontaneous, collective student action reveals that the campus community experienced the nation’s loss deeply and personally.
- Violet Caswell BC 2017, History & Spring 2015 Making History Public Student
The images and content in this blog post are from the exhibit#WeWereBC, which is now on display in the History Department, Stokes 3rd Floor South. This exhibit was curated and organized byProfessor Seth Meehan’s Spring 2015 Making History Public class, in collaboration with the Boston College University Libraries.