JFK’s 100th Birthday, A Call to Service
This Op-Ed was orginally published in the Hartford Courant on May 29, 2017. It can be viewed here.
By John B. Larson
Memorial Day falls this year on what would be President John F. Kennedy's 100th birthday. It's hard to believe that a man that we remember as being so vigorous, so vital, so intelligent and so young, would be 100 years old.
John Kennedy was an inspiration to all when he was alive. He had the ability to summon the country like no other president. He was able to set a high bar for the nation, that seemed possible to achieve under his leadership. Kennedy established goals for excellence and raised the consciousness of the American people to a level of dignity befitting a nation embarking on building a positive future for mankind.
As we remember his legacy, the best way to honor him is to meet his call for national service and commit to it. On May 25, I introduced a bill called America's Call to Improve Opportunities Now for National Service, alongside Kennedy's great-nephew, U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy, D-Mass., and a national icon, U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga. This legislation was inspired by President Kennedy's call to serve our country.
With this bill, we hope to exponentially increase service opportunities such as those in AmeriCorps, SeniorCorps and Teach for America. Young people who complete their terms of service would be eligible for student debt relief, for every year of service, they would receive two years of in-state college tuition to use for college, or trade school, or to pay down their student loans. By 2026, we hope to have 1 million service members serving at one time.
You do not need a uniform to serve your country and your community. As retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal has said, national service could help bridge the military-civilian divide by forming an understanding of a shared sacrifice. "A system of universal national service can work to foster a shared sense of capacities overseas and at home," he wrote.
General McChrystal believes in creating a universal system of national service and supports the idea of all young Americans serving for a year in some capacity. He wrote, "Right now, less than 1 percent of our population serves in the military and, in my view, we need to rethink and create a system where young Americans have an opportunity to serve their nation in other ways. We need to create a culture of service where we are all invested in our nation's future and feel a shared sense of responsibility to our nation and to each other."
Service is a way for our nation, and our youth, to find common ground. At a time when our nation is so divided, we need to come together, and stand united again. Through service we can find common ground with each other.
As John Kennedy said in his inaugural address:
"In your hands, my fellow citizens, more than in mine, will rest the final success or failure of our course. Since this country was founded, each generation of Americans has been summoned to give testimony to its national loyalty. The graves of young Americans who answered the call to service surround the globe.
"Now the trumpet summons us again — not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need; not as a call to battle, though embattled we are — but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, "rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation" — a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease and war itself.
"Can we forge against these enemies a grand and global alliance, North and South, East and West, that can assure a more fruitful life for all mankind? Will you join in that historic effort? ...
"And so, my fellow Americans: Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country."