It was a privilege for me to attend “The Torch Has Been Passed: JFK’s Legacy Today” Symposium held by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation and Waseda University at Okuma Auditorium on March 18, 2015. I was excited to receive an invitation from the Waseda University International Network to join them as staff for one of the biggest events at Okuma Auditorium since I was a student here 40 years ago including speeches by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Former President Bill Clinton, Ambassador Caroline Kennedy, two panel discussions with distinguished speakers and Moderator Chris Matthews, and the participation of Jack Schlossberg the only grandson of President John F Kennedy who is about the same age that I was when I attended Waseda University as an exchange student.
Waseda University President Kaoru Kamata welcomed the audience to the symposium and reflected on the 1962 lecture at Okuma Auditorium by then Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and the confrontation with students that ended peacefully with the singing of the University song. The hope at that time was that President Kennedy would also make a trip to Japan and become the first sitting American President to visit Japan. Although President Kennedy never made that trip his legacy was one of a new era in U.S.-Japan relations. See http://www.waseda.jp/top/en-news/24150 Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s speech observed three legacies: Grace Under Pressure, Power to Dream, and Battle Against Discrimination. He encouraged further student exchange between Japan and its Asian neighbors. see http://japan.kantei.go.jp/97_abe/statement/201503/jfksymposium.html
Bill Clinton gave an impressive speech but what also made an impression on me was his now famous teenage photo taken with President Kennedy that was shown behind the podium when Jack Schlossberg, President Kennedy’s only grandson, gave the introduction of Former President Bill Clinton. The photo provided the unusual but true sense of the passing of the torch and connections across time for each generation. Heather Campion, CEO of the JFK Library Foundation gave the closing remarks at the symposium thanking its sponsors. I was able to visit the exhibit “JFK: His Life and Legacy” organized by the JFK Library Foundation and curated by the National Archives of Japan http://www.jfklibrary.org/JFK/JFK-and-Japan/JFK-and-Japan-English.aspx
Panel Discussion 1: “The New Frontier: Innovation, Inspiration, and Inclusion” was ably moderated by Seiichiro Yonekura, Professor of Innovation Research, Hitotsubashi University whose insights added to the comments by the panelists including Charles Bolden, Administrator NASA, Carol Fulp, President and CEO of The Partnership, Inc., Kiyoshi Higuchi, President International Astronautical Federation and Senior Vice President, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), Marie Oshima, Professor Interfaculty Initiative in Information Studies and the Institute of Industrial Science, University of Tokyo and Koiichi Wakata, Astronaut, JAXA and veteran of space flights on the Space Shuttle, Soyuz, and International Space Station. I enjoyed this first session immensely because of the energetic discussion by panelists who had truly been impacted by JFK and The New Frontier in their careers and intellectual life.
Like some of the panelists I once stood as a child in the 1960s on the edge of the New Frontier and looked to the future. As President Kennedy initiated America’s journey into space I was swept with interest in the space explorations by astronauts throughout the 1960s. It was a part of our family story that my uncle Stuart Mockford introduced then Senator John F. Kennedy at a Rotary Luncheon during the Oregon Primary of 1960 and was a strong supporter of the President. President Kennedy had also visited Portland, Oregon’s Riverside Little League baseball park meeting my friends older brothers and throwing the first pitch but I was still a little too young to play ball there that year. I even attended Kennedy Elementary School in Portland that was named after a Pioneer Family named Kennedy opening in 1915 and 46 years later made for a proud moment for the student body to attend a school that had the same name as the President. I was in the fourth grade at Kennedy School when the news arrived that the President had been assassinated. It was a day that no one could ever forget as was another tragedy 5 years later that happened on the same night as our 8th Grade Graduation Dance when we heard that Robert F. Kennedy had been shot in Los Angeles.
The New Frontier suffered immense tragedies and yet persevered. I watched the 1969 Moon Landing from the National Boy Scout Jamboree in Idaho where special television tents were set up to make it possible for us to see the moon landing at the Jamboree. My Eagle Scout project involved teaching about bringing The New Frontier including space education to inner city schools and two years after the moon landing as a participant in the World Scout Jamboree at Asagiri, Shizuoka I got to see the first man to set foot on the moon Astronaut Neil Armstrong in person at the 13th World Scout Jamboree in Japan. As a member of the New Frontier Generation the Astronauts were my childhood heroes therefore it was especially meaningful for me to hear the remarks and reflections by Charles Bolden, NASA Administator, Kiyoshi Higuchi President of IAF and SVP JAXA, and Koichi Wakata JAXA Astronaut and veteran of the Space Shuttle, Soyuz and the International Space Station. Professor Oshima and Carol Fulp made contributions to this discussion by their perspectives on difference and diversity and the relationship between inclusion and innovation.
Panel Discussion 2: “A Strategy of Peace: Crisis, Diplomacy, and Non-proliferation” was moderated by MSNBC’s Chris Matthews who was as much fun to see in person and he is on television. Panelists for this session were Graham Allison, Professor Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, Christopher Dodd, former Senator and now Chair and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America, Fumikai Kubo, Professor American Government and History, University of Tokyo, Koji Murata, President Doshisha University, and Hatsue Shinohara, Professor Graduate School of Asia-Pacific Studies, Waseda University. I found this session interesting because of the reminder that Chris Matthews provided of JFK’s war time experience as commander of PT-109 followed by his correspondence in peace time with the captain of the Japanese destroyer that sank PT-109. (The artifacts from this period of history are exhibited at the National Archives of Japan in conjunction with this special program). The stories of President Kennedy’s meeting with Prime Minister Hayato Ikeda in 1961, the trip to Japan by Robert F. Kennedy in 1962 and his encounter with students at Waseda University’s Okuma auditorium, President Kennedy’s desire to visit Japan as well as his famous commencement speech at American University contributed to my understanding of his strategy for peace and diplomatic sensibility in addition to the story of the Cuban Missile Crisis and desire for nuclear non-proliferation. http://www.jfklibrary.org/Asset-Viewer/BWC7I4C9QUmLG9J6I8oy8w.aspx
As an international student at Waseda University in the 1970s when anti-Vietnam protests were common it was known to us at that time that Robert F. Kennedy had encountered hostile students at Okuma Auditorium during his visit a dozen years before we arrived at Waseda University. When my year at Waseda came to an end I was honored to be selected to give the farewell address in Japanese on behalf of the International Students at the “Sobetsukai” or final gathering at Okuma Garden and on a warm and peaceful day when some of my fellow students dressed in Japanese kimono.
40 years after I took that photo of my classmates at Okuma Garden I returned to Waseda Okuma Auditorium to attend The Torch Has Been Passed: JFK’s Legacy Today Symposium and witnessed the passing of The New Frontier to a new generation.