The Timelessness of Hope, Pride & Possibility

John_F._Kennedy,_White_House_photo_portrait,_looking_upLast week’s 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas, Texas marked a day that remains shrouded in dark mystery in modern American and world history. I spoke to our high school students about the Kennedy legacy at this week’s assembly because few had any sense of its context.

There are a lot of reasons that Kennedy and his assassination have left an indelible imprint on both American and Canadian psyches. At 43, he was the youngest president ever to be elected into office in 1960.  He brought a youthful vigour to the presidency. He was also the first Catholic president; a big issue at the time because of fears that during his presidency he would be heavily influenced by the Vatican. This related especially to issues like access to birth control and the legal status of divorce.

Kennedy is also remembered for being the first “telegenic” president.  An effective presenter on TV, he was perfectly suited to the short sound bites we have all become so accustomed to. Kennedy helped usher in the modern media age where it is no longer just content of the message that matters, but also how it’s presented. Today national leaders in the USA and Canada focus intensely on nationally- televised electoral debates that make or break their campaigns to win voters trust.

While in office, Kennedy actually was not successful on all fronts.  However, his historical legacy has certainly been forged as one that addressed big issues.  Many experts would describe his legacy as having had a focus on getting the country moving again and building optimism, hope and possibility in America and throughout the free world. In his famous inauguration speech in 1961 he made an important plea for Americans to commit to community service, stating, “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”  This lead to the creation of the American Peace Corps and a new idealism that young Americans could lead through service in the poorest countries of the developing world.

Kennedy was also a close friend to African Americans and an advocate of proposed civil rights laws that would see greater equity in America, especially in the deep south which at the time was still very segregated.

The early 60s were also dominated by the Cold War nuclear standoff between the superpowers. During the tense 13-days of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, Kennedy came under enormous pressure.  He was surrounded by hawkish military advisors who insisted he respond forcefully to the presence of missiles in Cuba. During those intense days in October, Kennedy managed to avoid a nuclear conflict and was able to convince the Russians to remove their weapons from Cuba. Historians still consider his Cold War diplomacy a significant achievement.

Kennedy also initiated major spending on the space race with the Russians which eventually led to the Americans being the first to successfully put a man on the moon and  literally reach for the stars.

When Kennedy was assassinated in November1963 his work was cut short.  Many Americans wondered what he could have achieved, and the shooting represented a violent collision of hope and possibility with the reality of violence and sheer evil that also exists in the world.

The official version of the assassination concluded one gunman acted alone. However, multiple conspiracy theories still abound about whether larger forces were behind the killing. These include allegations against the mafia, the Russians, archconservatives fighting against Kennedy’s proposed new equality, and civil rights laws. We will probably never know; Kennedy’s death will likely remain shrouded in mystery.

But at the 50th anniversary ceremony last Friday in Dallas, presidential historian David McCulloch reminded the audience that Kennedy was a confident optimist who was eloquent with his words. Kennedy knew that words matter and those that come from the mouth of the president have a special capacity to inspire and change lives.  Quoting from Kennedy’s famous “New Frontier” speech presented when he won the presidential nomination in 1960, McCulloch stressed that Kennedy focused on challenges not promises and appealed to the American people to focus on their pride in a world of possibilities.

Hope, pride and possibility: If those are the core of the Kennedy legacy, then we should all aspire to see that modern civic life embodies all three, whether in the USA or here in Canada. In essence, Kennedy’s message is timeless, because it is hope, pride and possibility that will carry each of our students forward as young leaders. I see them in action at school and beyond. I am proud to say that I have confidence in them as doers and in their capacity to help build a better tomorrow in Canada and globally.
—Chris Shannon, Headmaster




Pride Matters

Blog_HMO_01Oct2013We talk a lot about pride at LCC – essentially because pride matters.  It really matters. This is embodied in a book titled When Pride Still Mattered – the story of one of America’s most fabled and successful modern personalities, Vince Lombardi. He was the head coach of the Green Bay Packers football team in the 1960’s and winner of the Super Bowl in 1966 & 1967.

The son of an immigrant Italian butcher, Lombardi rose to the top in his field in America. He inspired his players by believing in them and convincing them to believe in their own promise, both as individuals and when working as a group. Lombardi was famous for a traditional value system and look – even on the football field: fedora, trench coat, big black glasses and strong focus on pride as a precondition to achieving anything difficult & meaningful.

David Maranniss, author of  When Pride Still Mattered, notes that Lombardi has become a mythic character in America and his legend now transcends sport, almost five full decades since he was active. Many now turn to Lombardi in search of characteristics that they fear have been diminished or lost today –  more traditional virtues such as discipline, respect, loyalty, character, and teamwork.

As Lombardi used to profess, before anyone can truly feel and show pride, you have to truly believe in yourself and your goals.  Essentially, that means having a positive mindset and remembering that achievement begins with being hopeful. As a speaker told our teachers earlier this past August, “kids who think they can usually do.”

But a positive and hopeful attitude is usually not enough to get you where you want to go. There is a lot of discussion these days in education circles about a host of important attributes that our students need in their daily toolboxes, especially resilience and grit. Yes, grit and perseverance are essential to success, not just in the classroom, but in life in developing relationships with one’s peers and friends – and as citizens in broader society.

Each student at LCC needs to build foundations or roots, but they also need wings – skills and attitudes that will help them to fly independently.  Stability and “stick-with-itness” are essential, especially when kids feel disappointed, frustrated or upset. This includes development of a lot of emotional factors: self-regulation, an ability to wait (delayed gratification), emotional control, and self- awareness that can diminish emotional outbursts.

We know that students who are poor at self-regulation also start to shy away from challenging opportunities – even if they don’t admit it to themselves.

I saw grit in action last week in a couple of cases: two Senior School soccer teams were shutout on the scoreboard – but our student-athletes took it all in stride, knowing tomorrow would be better. And our Senior Boys Football team played a very gritty game against a talented top-ranked team with probably about twice as many players as us. I was proud of our boys’ performance under difficult conditions.

Pride was also very much on display last week, especially at our two open houses.  Our student ambassadors were the difference-makers for visitors to our school. You can’t fake pride; that never works.  Parent and student visitors complimented our guides’ engagement, politeness, and breadth of knowledge about life at LCC.  That is pride on display and yes, pride matters.

As Vince Lombardi used to say, “excellence is a habit.”  So I ask our students to be proud of doing their best and showing their pride to the world; it does matter! – Christopher Shannon, Headmaster