, Salem, MA

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November 22, 2013

Nov. 22, 1963: Where were you when Kennedy was shot?


Leo and Priscilla Curda


‘Seldom does the teacher have all the answers’

As a student teacher in my last year of college at Bridgewater State, I was conducting an open discussion with my last period Accelerated Junior Class at B.M.C. Durfee High School in Fall River. The class was thoroughly absorbed with “Walden.” I had posited the question: “But do you find any ‘humanity’ in Thoreau’s ideas? When he tells us that he suffered when he lost ‘a bay horse, a turtledove and a white stone,’ is he writing literally or does each item represent an emotional attachment?” In an instant, seventeen bright, concerned students raised their hands ... .

We were unaware that we would all soon discover that unique divide between academia and sentiment. Another teacher knocked at the classroom door, opened it and shouted, “The president’s been shot in Dallas!” Within the room, no one spoke or reacted for several minutes. Then, one of the students who was a member of the Audio-Visual Club left the room and returned with an 18-inch black-and-white television. He switched through various channels (perhaps there were six at the time) until he found the stony, rigid visage of Walter Cronkite. ...

We all remained mesmerized by what we saw. The end-of-school bell rang; no one chose to leave the room. None of us could fully absorb Cronkite’s announcement and tearful response when, at 2:25 p.m., he made the unfathomable statement: “The President of the United States died.”

Much too early in my career as a high school English teacher, I volubly learned the lesson that seldom does the teacher have all the answers. JFK had been my personal idol since my own high school years. His early programs that he instituted as president — the Peace Corps, several fellowship programs that opened doors to college and higher education degrees that had never existed before, his embrace of the Civil Rights movement — resonated within the forming philosophy of giving back and helping others that many of my generation embraced.

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