A Different Twist on the Anniversary of the JFK AssassinationThis is the year of some significant 50th anniversaries, first with Martin Luther King Jr’s historic march on Washington and now with the JFK anniversary. I recently came across Kennedy’s college application to Harvard and thought it would be interesting to share. Kennedy may have been a fine President, but what do you think about his essay?
The prompt was simple: “Why do you wish to come to Harvard?” JFK responded with this short message, citing Harvard’s prestigious status, superior academics, and the legacy of his father attending the university in his answer.
“The reasons that I have for wishing to go to Harvard are several. I feel that Harvard can give me a better background and a better liberal education than any other university. I have always wanted to go there, as I have felt that it is not just another college, but is a university with something definite to offer. Then too, I would like to go to the same college as my father. To be a ‘Harvard man’ is an enviable distinction, and one that I sincerely hope I shall attain.”
April 23, 1935
John F. Kennedy
Obviously, much has changed since 1935. First of all, the schools want to know more about their potential students. Kennedy’s essay says little other than his father went there. I’m not saying that schools turn away legacies with Joseph P. Kennedy’s means, but simply being a legacy is no guarantee of acceptance anymore. Also, what is a “Harvard man?” How does JFK interpret that? Why is that important to him? Quite frankly, he missed a great opportunity to show his values to the admissions officers. Another obvious change is the minimum word count. With fewer than 100 words, Kennedy’s essay couldn’t be submitted today! I could go on and on, but what’s the point? It’s a different world. For instance, look at the date Kennedy applied. By that time in today’s world, students will have already received the outcomes of their applications.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not cutting Kennedy down. We all know how he inspired the nation to explore space, how he tried to curtail the Cold War with the Soviet Union, and how he inspired countless others to go into public service. But even Harvard wasn’t impressed with his academic credentials at first. According to the university’s website, JFK was “not particularly devoted to academics.” However, he really came along by the time he was an upperclassman. By his junior year he had made the Dean’s List, and his senior thesis, written about Great Britain’s lack of preparation for World War II, became a bestselling book (Why England Slept) after he graduated in 1940.
If his college career could be equated with his presidency, perhaps Kennedy was just finding his stride before his life was cut short. We will never know. What do you think?