Today marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. In May 1965 a memorial at Runnymede was dedicated to the late U.S. President by Queen Elizabeth II and Kennedy’s widow. This year the symbolism of the memorial, designed by architect Geoffrey Jellicoe and sculptor Alan Collins, will be especially symbolic. It consists of 50 steps made from a total of 60,000 hand carved pieces of granite – one for every year since that shocking day in November 1963 – leading to a memorial tablet of Portland stone inscribed with the following words from Kennedy’s innaugural address:
Let every Nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend or oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and success of liberty.
The Kennedy Memorial Trust maintains the site and the land that comprises the memorial garden was made a gift to the United States of America by the people of Great Britain. It’s fitting given this University’s own historical links with Runnymede that there should be another less tangible but equally important and enduring memorial to Kennedy. As well as its responsibilities for the upkeep of the memorial, the trust also sponsors scholarships which allow British students to study in the United States. It’s a nice near-reciprocation of Kennedy’s own educational journey. He had hoped to study at the LSE but was prevented from doing so by ill health.
The fifty steps that lead to the physical memorial to JFK at Runnymede are said to represent a pilgrimage but perhaps, taken together, these joint legacies have a more enduring symbolism. Education bridges oceans and continents to bring us together. Education elevates us.