Rep. Joseph Kennedy III, D-MA, to Speak


John F. Kennedy at Amherst College

In honor of the 100th anniversary of the late commander-in-chief’s birth, Amherst College will hold a symposium titled “Poetry and Politics: A Celebration of the Life and Legacy of President John F. Kennedy.” The event will take place on Saturday, Oct. 28, beginning at 1 p.m. at Cole Assembly Room in the College’s Converse Hall. The special gathering will conclude with a keynote speech delivered by U.S. Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III, D-MA, on the steps of Amherst’s Frost Library—not far from the spot where his great-uncle, the president, gave a short speech almost 54 years to the day before.

All of the “Poetry and Politics” activities are free and open to the public.

President Kennedy gave a long convocation address at the athletics facilities on the morning of Oct. 26, 1963, just before the groundbreaking of the College’s library, which is named for Robert Frost. The poet, who’d died nine months earlier, taught at Amherst for many years.

“The president told a crowd of 10,000 that a great nation honors its artists no less than its soldiers and statesmen,” said College President Biddy Martin of the famous speech. “Artists, JFK observed, have the solitary job of holding up a mirror to society, reminding us of our obligations to our ideals of truth and justice. The values that Kennedy championed in 1963—opportunity, truth and service to the common good—continue to define Amherst’s mission and goals today.”

 The College’s extensive archival materials related to the president’s speech include an audio recording, images of annotated drafts of the speech and a photo gallery. In addition, a 2003 Amherst magazine covered an event recognizing the 40th anniversary of the library dedication.

Portions of the president’s remarks that day about the arts and poetry have become some of his most quoted ever.

“When power leads man towards arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations,” Kennedy told the Amherst audience. “When power narrows the areas of man’s concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses.”

Given the parallels between the careers of the president and his great-grandnephew, it is fitting that Joseph Kennedy will conclude the Oct. 28 activities, said Austin Sarat, associate dean of the faculty at Amherst and one of the organizers of the celebration.

Sarat noted, for example, that both the president and Joseph Kennedy were first elected to a federal office as U.S. representatives from Massachusetts. Both were first elected as representatives in their early 30s. Perhaps more important, both encouraged college students on both sides of the aisle to consider careers in civil service.   

“Congressman Kennedy is a leading younger member in the House of Representatives,” said Sarat. “The way he conducts himself in pursuing his political agenda offers a terrific example for Amherst students, whether or not they agree with his policy stands.”


In addition to Joseph Kennedy’s speech, “Poetry and Politics: A Celebration of the Life and Legacy of President John F. Kennedy,” will feature a viewing of a film of President Kennedy’s Frost Library address. It will be followed by a symposium at which current students and faculty will discuss the late president’s impact on Amherst and poetry’s impact on politics.

Schedule of Events

The day’s events are as follows and will take place in Cole Assembly Room unless otherwise noted:

1 p.m.

Introduction to the JFK 100 Day of Events by President Biddy Martin
Cole Assembly Room 

1:15 p.m.

Film of President John F. Kennedy’s Speech at Amherst
Cole Assembly Room             

1:45-2:45 p.m.

JFK at Amherst College: Amherst Student Reflections
Cole Assembly Room      

  • Moderator: Suzanne Coffey
  • Dakota Foster ’18
  • Gabrielle Francois ’19
  • Noor Qasim ’18
  • Ted Nelson ‘64
  • Mark Sandler ‘64

2:45-3:00 p.m.

Break w/ refreshments

3:00-4:00 p.m.

Bringing Poetry to Politics: Faculty Panel
Cole Assembly Room  

  • Moderator: Catherine Epstein      
  • Andrew Poe, Political Science
  • Rhonda Cobham-Sander, Black Studies & English
  • Geoffrey Sanborn, Department of English      

4:15-5:15  p.m.   

Keynote Address: Congressman Joseph Kennedy III
Steps of the Frost Library

  • Introduction by President Biddy Martin 

5:15-6:15  p.m.            

Reception & Exhibition
Friendly Reading Room, Frost Library