Off The Press

February 16, 2009

By Jim Feehan

Jim Feehan Press Reporter

Jim Feehan Press Reporter

Inauguration inspires a new generation

A few days after the inauguration, I put two questions to a group of first-graders at Newcastle Elementary School: What do presidents do? And why do we need one?

“To make the world a better place,” “To protect our country” and “To lower taxes and make America a better place” were among some of the responses.While some of the students were a little fuzzy on the job duties and responsibilities of the nation’s chief executive — each and every student knew who the new president was.

Pretty heady stuff for a 6-year-old.

When I was that age, John F. Kennedy, another young, idealistic, former U.S. Senator was president. I couldn’t have told you who the president was when I was a first-grader. Sadly, two months into my first year of parochial school, President Kennedy was assassinated.

The nuns wept. We were sent home from school as a nation mourned the passing of the president. In the week following the assassination, Jackie Kennedy memorialized her husband with words from his favorite show tune, “Don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment that was known as Camelot.”

For one brief shining moment, nearly 50 years later, a nation came together to view the swearing-in of the 44th president. History was made. The first black president was sworn-in in front of a record audience at the Capitol and across the nation on TV, radio and the Internet.

Closer to home, students gathered in front of TVs in classrooms and students from Skyline High School attended the inauguration. So, too, did a Maywood Middle School student with his father. One month ago, a nation witnessed the peaceful transfer of power between two diametrically opposed political parties.

Barack Obama has been able to break through the cynicism that has plagued politics the past 20 years. Civil discourse is all but gone, especially on the Internet and talk radio, where name-calling, race baiting and anger hold court. Perhaps we can return to that day when political discourse is civil.

Obama’s inauguration will be a defining moment in some people’s lives. As people recalled where they were when JFK was assassinated, the day the space shuttle Challenger exploded and the day two jetliners crashed into the World Trade Center towers, they, too, will remember where they were Jan. 20, 2009.

Not having a TV set in the office, I opted to view history in the making at the Starbucks in the Meadows Shopping Center. I wasn’t alone. Dozens of people crowded around a large screen monitor to watch the inauguration. Young, old, men and women were there. A father held up his toddler, so his son could witness history.

“Few will have the greatness to bend history itself. But each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation,” Robert F. Kennedy said.

Those words ring true a generation later as the so-called “lost-generation” of post baby boomers has discovered a sense of purpose and faith in this nation. That’s important as we celebrate the birth of George Washington this week (Feb. 22).

In the days leading up to the Nov. 4 election, a 19-year-old single mother from Pennsylvania penned these immortal words:

“Rosa sat so Martin could walk; Martin walked so Obama could run; Obama is running so our children can fly.”

Here’s hoping Obama inspires a new generation to set higher goals and look beyond themselves.

Reach Reporter Jim Feehan at 392-6434, ext. 239, or Comment on this story at

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