Curtis Kemeny was in diapers when John F. Kennedy was president. Today he's a senior at Brookline High School whose knowledge of Camelot is straight from the history books. But that's enough.
"It's hard to perceive," he says, "but I see Kennedy as being a great man. It was a great peroid of achievement then for the younger people -- a new generation. In my lifetime, there certaily hasn't been the great presidents. I've seen Watergate and the government has been chopped down. I hope the future holds a lot. I'm sort of excited about it."
Yesterday the New Frontier came to Kemeny and to thousands of other Boston area students as 75 prominent figures from the Kennedy presidency held teach-ins at several dozen high schools.
Their message was the same: a call to public service. Taking the idealism of the early '60s and trying to redefine it for the '80s, they fanned out across the Boston area as part of a two-day celebration to dedicate the $18-million John F. Kennedy Library on the edge of the city's harbor.
Their approaches were as diverse as they were, ranging from the thoughtful solemnity of historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. to the homey intimacy of former Labor Secretary W. Willard Wirtz, and from the imperious style of former governor Averall Harriman to the impish humor of Kennedy crony Dave Powers.
Some sessions, like Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's (D-Mass.) at Boston Latin, were full of frank questions and answers; other, like World Bank President Robert McNamara's, were limited and carefully orchestrated.
And in one of the schools that has felt the brunt of Boston's most recent racial torment, a white 19-year-old who has never heard of Sargent Shriver told him he had, through busing, "pitted two groups against each other by forcing them in the same place."
Some scenes from the day:
At Boston's predominantly black Dorchester High School, Sen. Kennedy is asked if he will be able to wrest the Democratic nomination from President Carter.
Kennedy replies, "Were I to be candidate . . . (long pause) . . . Yes!"
And is he "100 percent sure" he will run, a student asks.
"I've indicated there would be an exploratory committee sometime next week, prior to the announcement of a candidacy," Kennedy answers. "I don't think there'll be much of a surpirse at what the statement will be."
The 600 students clap and cheer.
Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School, 75 social-studies students in the library.
"We've got just exactly half a centruy between us," Wirtz tells his audience. "You've got to help me across the gap."
He helps a lot himself by shattering one myth: that Cabinet officers are any different from anyone else. "Cabinet meetings are a part of society's Kabuki dance, all gesture without much meaning." Decisions are worked out gradually, Wirtz is saying, exactly the way decisions are worked out anywhere.
Of government's record over the past two decades, Wirtz if apologetic.
"There was a war in which government was responsible, a war which shouldn't have happened. And there was Watergate which government was repsonsible for and which shouldn't have happened."