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Chancellor Gray-Little on JFK's assassination

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Last week the Journal-World did a retrospective on what folks around the community remembered about the assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas 50 years ago. Not along ago I had the chance to chat with Kansas University Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little, and I asked her what she remembered about that day. At the time I was feeling too gentlemanly to ask how old she was, but a look through the Journal-World archives and some arithmetic suggests that she is 68, making her 18 at the time of Kennedy was shot.

Here's what Gray-Little had to say about that day:

"I was going to class… and I heard he was shot and later that he died. It seems that for several days things were just kind of suspended, and everybody was sad and gloomy — and frightened about what that meant, anxious about what that meant. It seemed like everything was going on in kind of an unreal setting and environment because of what had happened. And even though you might do other things and talk about other things, the conversations and the thoughts were really about that."

I myself came around a couple decades after Kennedy's assassination, but I was an adult — in a loose sense of the word — at the time of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Gray-Little's description of the Kennedy assassination as "unreal" made me think of that day, and the weeks around it. Reality felt very much shaken, unsettled. I asked Gray-Little the two events were similar. She said:

"Even though 9/11 in some ways was a more startling event, it wasn't fundamentally as challenging or shaking as the assassination of the president… because one would think 9/11 couldn't happen, it was very upsetting, but it was an enemy, an external enemy, and the other one was internal."

Well, there's nothing like starting off the week with ruminations on national tragedies. Feel free to share your memories of gloomy national events, or much cheerier ones if you like, or — best of all — KU news tips with me, just send them along to bunglesbee@ljworld.com.

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