Explaining History to the New Generation

I have been to Arlington National Cemetery 4 times in my lifetime and each time I still get the chills walking into that place. The history and the magnitude of that place is hard to put into words and if you have never been, I would suggest making at least one trip there. Unlike the other times I have been to Arlington in which I would been in a rush to get to the next stops on our Washington D.C tour, this time I was able to spend all the time I wanted. I spent about three hours on one of the days there and I was able to take it all in. As I walked to the eternal flame to pay my respects to both President and Mrs. Kennedy, I was in stiff competition with all of these student groups that were there as well. I stood back and waited for my turn as the large groups would move on down the line of Kennedy brothers that are buried nearby. As you get closer to the flame you can start to feel the magnitude of what could have been and the many “what ifs” that are buried at that site. I took my time, said a prayer and just kept thinking about my own potential and if I was doing enough, not just for my country but for my family as well. President Kennedy inspired me when I was a struggling 9 year old who had zero interest in learning how to read or had any thought that one day I would be holding a Master’s degree in history because of him. Now here I was standing by his grave site and I just wanted to breakdown.

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As you walk the pathway that connects the Kennedy brothers at Arlington, you will see that Bobby is buried not far away from his brother Jack. It was at Bobby’s grave site that I would really fall deep into this zone that is hard to describe. His grave site is marked by a single cross, a headstone and nothing more. There is a wall across from his grave site that includes the speech he delivered after the death of Martin Luther King Jr. There was another wall nearby that I was able to sit on and think, sometimes taking notes, but mostly I was there to reflect. I sat on this ledge for 2 hours, watching group after group head up to the eternal flame only to walk right past Bobby on their way to another of the cemetery’s monuments. Sometimes the groups would stop and pay respects to Bobby and others did not. Some of the guides would tell these students a quick story about who was buried there, but nothing of any substance that would tell them that someone special was buried there. I even heard a guide confuse stories of Teddy and Bobby, one of which said that Bobby was the one who was at Chappaquiddick in 1969. My fiancé had to keep me from opening my mouth to correct him and tried to tell me to let it go. That’s just not me. So when they got to Teddy’s grave which is just a few steps away from Bobby’s, I had to make the correction to the guide.

This got me thinking some more about what I could be doing. Yes, teaching has always been something that I have wanted to do, but would that be enough? Seeing group after group walk past Bobby, just made me think more about it. This was a man that could have had the most potential to change things we know today. Things that Bobby stood for, are still some of the same things we struggle with today. At least the tour guides taking these students could have mentioned the potential, the passion and the desire he had to make this a better world. I heard them at the eternal flame, I heard the long talks they gave these students for JFK, but it could have been said about RFK as well. We long for leaders that inspire us, make us want to be more than what we are. I truly believe that RFK saw the potential in people and that is what would have made him an unforgettable president had he lived and won. We just will never know like many things when it comes to the Kennedy’s as their potential was cut way too short in life.

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