Congressman Joe Kennedy III – Amherst College – October 29, 2017

Good afternoon, everyone Welcome Welcome again to many of you who’ve been here all afternoon, and welcome to those of you who have come to hear congressman Joseph Kennedy the third 54 years ago, almost to the day, congressman Kennedy’s great uncle, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, spoke at Amherst College in the very spot where you now sit He spoke here as part of the groundbreaking ceremonies for Frost Library, the building behind me And on that day, President Kennedy honored the poet Robert Frost And this afternoon, we have honored President Kennedy and his visit to Amherst We host this event in partnership with the John F Kennedy Library and Museum in celebration of the 100th anniversary of President Kennedy’s birth And throughout the afternoon, we’ve been joined by local and state-elected officials who have joined students, faculty, staff, alumni, trustees, trustee emerita, and community members in reflecting on Kennedy’s visit to campus and on his speech I want to thank the elected officials who have taken the time to be here today Thank you very much And also the rest of you for your time I can’t imagine a more fitting tribute to the late president or certainly a greater honor for all of us than to have Congressman Joseph Kennedy join us and speak on this occasion Congressman Kennedy, as many of you know, is now in his third term as representative of the Commonwealth’s Fourth District And he is increasingly visible and influential in Washington and beyond Born and raised in Massachusetts, Congressman Kennedy graduated from Stanford University with a bachelor’s degree in management science and engineering He has a twin brother, Matt, who also attended Stanford And as a college president, I couldn’t help but be impressed by the news from his friends and even his brother that Joseph Kennedy the third was the most studious and serious student After graduating from Stanford, Kennedy joined the Peace Corps, an organization that was established by his great uncle, President Kennedy A fluent Spanish speaker, he spent two years serving in the Dominican Republic, where he designed and helped implement an economic development project near Puerto Plata He speaks of his experience in the Dominican Republic as amazing and formative And now I quote him “There’s nothing those kids, those babies, or young men I was working with, nothing they could ever do that was going to get them into Harvard Law School I was no more talented I was no smarter I was no better than any of them I just had the resources, and the support, and the platform,” end of quote He has also said that the people he got to know in the Dominican Republic and work with are the reason that he’s doing the work he’s doing today After his two years in the Dominican Republic, Joseph Kennedy entered Harvard Law School, where he earned his JD And there he also met his wife, Lauren, in a class they took from then-Professor Elizabeth Warren Kennedy served as assistant district attorney for portions of Boston and Cape Cod after law school But since 2013, he has proudly served the Fourth District of Massachusetts in the seat from which Barney Frank retired in 2012 This is a diverse district that stretches from the suburbs of Boston to the more industrial cities of Massachusetts’ south coast He has gained a reputation from his colleagues in the House and from his constituents as a legislator who works incredibly hard, who rolls up his sleeves to master the legislative process, who has a sense of urgency and great passion, but also respect’s process, and is genuinely focused on his constituents Focused not on the flashier aspects of constituent services, but on the hard work Each term, he visits all 34 towns in his district, holding meetings at the library

to listen and help navigate the federal bureaucracies that people have to navigate He regularly sends handwritten notes He has a youth council that includes student representatives from the schools in the district, and with whom he meets to hear about the issues and points of view of young people Congressman Kennedy’s peers, his predecessors, his mentors say about him that he is whip smart, unfailingly polite, thoughtful, a careful crafter of legislation, and understated, understated and humble But over the past year, he has also become highly visible for his eloquent and unflinching stance on access to affordable health care, support for transgender rights, for protecting people with DACA status, and for racial justice, among others When speaker of the House Paul Ryan called the plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act an act of mercy, Kennedy took the floor and said, and I quote, “With all due respect to our speaker, he and I must have read different scripture The one I read calls on us to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to shelter the homeless, and to comfort the sick This is not an act of mercy,” he continued “It is an act of malice.” That speech went viral, as they say [APPLAUSE] Those comments got over 10 million hits relatively quickly And the next day, in an exchange he had with a Republican lawyer about the bill’s cuts to addiction and mental health coverage, he made further remarks that also went viral And the next day, when he opposed efforts to cut off Planned Parenthood reimbursements, he got 1.8 million views for his comments right away Some have seen his outspokenness over the past year as a departure But those who know him well counter by saying this is who he is and who he has always been, passionate about equal rights, about job creation in a dramatically changing economic environment, about immigration, and criminal justice reform Passionate about all of these issues, but also reasonable and wise enough to know one has to take the long game into account as a legislator He is a vocal advocate for STEM education, vocational schools, and community colleges His revitalized American Manufacturing and Innovation Act was signed into law by Obama in 2014 It supports jobs and directions toward a new economy According to a study from the Lugar Center in Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy, Congressman Kennedy is the most bipartisan New England member of the House of Representatives And that doesn’t even count his regular morning workouts with a bipartisan group of House members with Mr. Mullins, I believe His voice is being heard not only inside the Democratic Party, but also inside the entire House of Representatives and across the nation Among the most impressive things I read about Congressman Kennedy came from interviews with his friends They struggled to find anything negative or critical to say about him And in fact, one of them, his roommate at Stanford, Jason Collins, a pro basketball player, I believe was the one who finally said, “The only thing we could ever find to say that might have been critical was that he doesn’t use enough product in his hair.” [LAUGHTER] He, they all said, was the person to call when you had a problem, a true friend, and a wonderful human being On June 22, 2017, speaking against the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, Congressman Kennedy challenged his peers to do more for the people they represent And let me end with this quote from Congressman Kennedy “The America that I know understands that our greatness comes from our goodness That we lean into challenges, we don’t yield to them That the frustration we see in our streets and our communities

is a cry for our government to be as good and as decent as the people we aim to serve They, we, deserve nothing less.” Please join me in welcoming congressman Joseph Kennedy the third [APPLAUSE] Madam President, we need to hang out more often [LAUGHTER] That was quite something I will be sure to tell my wife that they never found anything bad about me, and that I’m increasingly influential [LAUGHTER] I am certain she would beg to differ on both of those things Thank you so much for the extraordinary, extraordinary generous introduction I am thrilled to be here today with all of you Thank you for including me in this special celebration There’s a couple of folks here I want to recognize But before I do, Madam President, it’s got a certain ring to it that I was expecting to say more often [LAUGHTER] [APPLAUSE] Sometimes these things happen Under your steady leadership, thousands of students have walked into this campus And a few short years later, walk off it ready to change the world Thank you for your unconditional support for every single one of them I’m grateful and honored to be here with you today [APPLAUSE] To the board of trustees, and Amos and Barbara Hostetter, and Steve Kidder, dear, dear friends, your connection to this college has never let any of you stray very far from these grounds, no matter where you call home More than just shaping the buildings here at Amherst, you’ve helped shape the lives of those studying in these halls And to the faculty, many acquire knowledge to pursue their own wealth success You accumulate it to share with the next generation Your selflessness and patience is inspiring Thank you for having me as well To Steve Rothstein, the director of the JFK Library Foundation, a dear, dear friend, goes back for– sorry, Steve– but multiple generations of my family, thank you for being here, and your extraordinary stewardship at the library Ladies and gentlemen, I am thrilled to be here And I did what I would like to think any speaker before this building would do, which is I reached out to a former member of my staff who happens to be an alumni here And I said, what should I expect? What can I do, and what should I say? What’s going to happen on a beautiful Saturday here in late October? And her response was clear Well, students certainly don’t go to the library on a beautiful Saturday to hear a politician speak So keep it brief, and go off to Antonio’s [LAUGHTER] So hard to find good help [LAUGHTER] On a serious note, you all as students are responsible for the prestige that this college has earned over the past nearly two centuries I know you will all continue that proud legacy And so let me begin by telling you a little bit about myself I’m an engineer by training, a lawyer by schooling, a politician by trade So let’s talk poetry [LAUGHTER] This one was a little bit of a tougher one to write We gather to commemorate a defining moment in a defining place for two extraordinary Americans One a proud Yankee poet, and the other, a proud Irish American president Both restless thinkers rooted deeply, stubbornly, in this New England soil Both lifelong students of the experience of ordinary men, avid explorers of the space between lofty vision

and humble experience, of big dreams and hard realities Neither aimed to proselytize or preach, but simply to connect with our most basic humanity our wants, our needs, pains, and promises In this shared vocation, the poet and politician found common cause and mutual admiration for the other’s art It brought President John F. Kennedy right here a half century ago to the newly-minted Robert Frost Library, where he said, as you all I’m sure I’ve heard today, quote, “When power leads man towards arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations When power narrows the areas of man’s concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and the diversity of his existence When power corrupts, poetry cleanses For art establishes the basic human truths which must serve as a touchstone for our judgment.” Over 50 years later, those words hit home for those of us gathered here today, undoubtedly worried that our deeply fractured country has lost that touchstone for judgment It is no secret that we are here in turbulent times A president of the United States using Gold Star Families of lying, a foreign adversary knee-deep in our democracy, a Justice Department backing away from civil rights protections by the day, a budget, a tax plan, and a health care bill that will bring the sick, and the struggling, and the suffering to their knees, immigration and refugee policies that leave devastated families and communities in their wake, a world view that threatens the work of generations of American diplomats, and a vision that targets the values that America has long defended A current administration that has turned American life into a zero sum game For me to win, you must lose Where your life can only be rich if somebody else is robbed Where I am empowered if the other is oppressed Where there’s room for some, but not all Me, but not you These, but not those Where policies and politics reflect society where to be different or diverse is weak, to be vulnerable is shameful and scorned That is not who we are And this dark worldview has left many disoriented, searching for what binds us together in times that threaten to tear us apart, desperately hunting for common cause, for better angels, for decency that makes us proud to be of these United States And it is in moments like these, in this one, that the role for our liberal arts is critical, as precise and as deeply needed as it was when President Kennedy stood in this very spot For we trust to our artists to expose the burdens that many of us buried within We ask them to bravely share their vulnerabilities to help us recognize our own We depend on them to remind us of our individual frailties, that they are not unique, but rather, built upon, can fortify a common cause Nearly a century ago, Langston Hughes reminded America that quote, “I, too, sing America,” in a rebuke to a viciously segregated nation and a plea for his country to see his humanity and his dignity, not the color of his skin And in 1969, Joni Mitchell faced a war-weary nation in the depths of Vietnam and asked, quote, “Oh, my friend, what time is this to trade the handshake for the first?” And today, Chance the Rapper–

yes, Chance the Rapper– looks at us and says, “I know you scared You should ask us if we scared too If you was there, then we just knew you cared, too,” forcing all of us to confront an enduring blind spot for the challenges facing minority communities Poets, painters see the world that surrounds them with a clear eye Their empathy can translate despair into beauty Their humanity finds color in our shadows And their optimism orients us towards what is big, and real, and tough, and worth fighting for, those values of justice, and freedom, and love Art and academia don’t just allow for introspection They require it And in so doing, they inspire us to create the tangible societal change that otherwise, it resides solely in our imagination It’s an ambitious assignment And I don’t believe that Mr. Frost or President Kennedy could envision the change that would begin within this building behind me Students from nearly every state in this union and 54 countries, challenging themselves from 8:00 AM until well past midnight, students like Peter Tang, 2010 class president, who graduated and immediately entered Teach for America in Memphis Seven years later, Peter’s still in Tennessee working to strengthen the education system for low-income families For Carolyn Sufrin, a pre-med graduate, who’s dedicated much of her career to addressing the health care needs for incarcerated women Or Josh Block, who has stood by Gavin Grimm’s side through every level of our criminal justice system in the pursuit of lived and legal equality for transgender students and Americans Or Alexander Morton, who was a student when this library was dedicated, became a Peace Corps volunteer at Addis Ababa, and went on to visit nearly 80% of the world’s countries throughout the course of his life For Peter, and Carolyn, Josh, Alexander, and so many other proud Amherst alumni, a lifetime of reflection began within these walls under Robert Frost’s name And in dedicating this library to the revered poet, President Kennedy said, quote, “If sometimes our great artists have been the most critical of our society, it is because their sensitivity and their concern for justice, which must motivate any true artist, makes him aware that our nation falls short of its highest potential.” And that is our ultimate American and human truth That we are, in fact, a work in progress, flawed and fragile, sometimes selfish and cruel But like any great masterpiece, we defy our own limitations In the moments that matter most, we expand and extend We rescue We protect We survive We give We open We heal, and we help And that more than any law or leader, more than even the most powerful movements or moments in our history, that is what drives us towards progress That is, in fact, the touchstone of our judgment It takes time, and persistence, and resistance, and patience But no single person, no bully, no stubborn monster, like prejudice or injustice– in the end, none of it, none of it, can match the small personal courageous ways Americans choose goodness every single day A poem that was left undelivered on a cold snowy day on the Capitol steps in 1961, when a young Massachusetts senator was set to become our nation’s president, Robert Frost perfectly illustrated that optimistic home He was to say, “There’s a call to life a little sterner and braver for the earner, learner, yearner Less criticism of the field and court, and more preoccupation with the sport

And makes the prophet in all of us presage the glory of a next Augustan age Of a power leading from its strength and pride of young ambition, eager to be tried Firm in our free beliefs without dismay in any game the nations want to play.” Poetry and politics may appear to live in dissonance But excellence in either demands many of the same qualities An embrace of human imperfection, a deep faith in the bonds of shared experience, an eye for opportunity that others might pass by, and a belief that this life, this earth, this fleeting time that we share together, it’s worth fighting as hard as we can to get it right And so to you, Amherst, I want to thank you for supporting each other and for training generation after generation of leaders who help ensure that we will get this right Thank you for allowing me to participate today [APPLAUSE] Thank you, Congressman Kennedy What a beautiful speech Thank you very much Thank you for being here We’re honored I want all of you to join us now for a reception in the library, where you will also be treated to an exhibition that has been planned and put in place by the staff of the library under the direction of our archivist, Mike Kelly It includes a manuscript of President Kennedy’s address, a signed Robert Frost manuscript, wonderful photography from 1963, when President Kennedy was here, correspondence from President Kennedy to President Cole and to Amherst faculty, and a wide range of other extraordinary items So it’s gorgeous out here Standing here, it’s especially gorgeous looking out It’s impossible not to love this place and to love all of you who contribute so much to it Let us thank Congressman Joseph Kennedy the third again for the honor of being here and speaking with us today, and join me in the library [APPLAUSE]