By Aaron Orbey ’14
“It wasn’t so long ago that I was in your place, stuck on a Friday afternoon listening to boring speeches,” joked Joseph Kennedy III ’99, addressing a jam-packed Community Room during a Senior Class meeting on May 5. “I think I might have even sat in some of the same exact chairs.”
For the students, alumni/ae, and faculty crowding the space in front of Mr. Kennedy’s podium, however, his visit was far from a boring event. Listeners sat, hooked, as the BB&N graduate and congressional hopeful rallied seniors to get involved in political decisions that would affect their future and reflected on his time and experiences at the school and beyond.
Introduced by Lucy Hurlock ’12, who devoted part of her Senior Spring Project to working on his campaign, Kennedy’s speech began with shout-outs to several faculty members present in the audience. Among the mentions were Former Head Football Coach Lewis Bryant, Chorale Director Joe Horning, and English Teacher Rob Leith.
Kennedy then spoke briefly about his background and motivation for running for the seat now held by retiring U.S. Representative Barney Frank. He cited both his time in the Dominican Republic as a Peace Corps volunteer and his work as a prosecutor in the Cambridge court system as driving factors for his desire to make a larger difference.
“Of all the lessons I took with me,” he explained, “one stood out the most. When trying to challenge the status quo, there isn’t a roadmap. You make it work. You figure it out. This is a lesson I’m using to guide myself through the race. I want to be in a position to help shape the policy that defines this country moving forward.”
At stake, he added, is more than just one election.
“We’re dealing with a debate about the trajectory of our country, what country we’re going to be in 50 years, and what it’s going to take for us to get there. The choices being made right now in Washington are going to have a huge impact on our—your—generation.”
Urging seniors to embrace their political rights and stay involved in discussions about the country’s future, Kennedy stressed their importance in the political decision-making process.
“Your future is at stake,” he told students, “and that means you have to have a role. When you leave these walls, I hope you’ll find a way to stay in this conversation.”
Kennedy emphasized the importance of the school in cultivating this leadership and voice. BB&N, he explained, laid the scaffolding for much of his present work and success.
“I found myself incredibly well prepared for the rigorous academic curriculum both at Stanford and later at Harvard Law,” he said. “The school was an incredible training ground [in terms of] structure, academic excellence, discipline, and balance for sports and extracurricular activities….maybe not during Senior Project, though, which may not have been the most intense experience of my life,” he added with a chuckle.
As well as reflecting on his time at BB&N, Mr. Kennedy fielded questions from both students and faculty about current hot topics in politics, including “Obama-care,” the ‘Occupy’ Movement, and Washington’s lack of bipartisanship. Several students say they appreciated Kennedy’s warmth and reasonability in response.
“He did an excellent job of trying to relate to current students during his presentation, and he had a very friendly, engaging presence,” says Alice Berenson ’12. “He also did an impressive job handling somewhat controversial questions from the more conservative members of the senior class, explaining his position without offending those whose opinions differ.”
Lucy adds, “I think Joe really inspires students because he talks about things from our perspective and speaks about ‘our generation’ in reference to both himself and his student audience.”
“You could tell he was a young politician,” says Harrison Stetler ’12. “I found this refreshing. His speech sounded less polished and, in the end, less contrived.”
The son of former U.S. Representative Joseph Kennedy II and the grandson of the late Robert F. Kennedy, Kennedy enters the race continuing a longstanding family tradition of political involvement. He noted, however, that sincere desire—rather than his family’s influence—spurred his candidacy.
“I’m proud of my family’s legacy of public service,” he explained, “but that didn’t have an impact on my decision to do this.”
“It doesn’t surprise me that Joe has entered the election,” says Latin and History Teacher Bob Edbrooke, recalling Kennedy’s time at BB&N. “He was a kind, athletic contributor to the class of ’99 and a boy with a good-hearted soul who wanted to help.”
Photo: Kennedy’s humor and warmth resonated with members of his student audience. By Carolyn Kwon ’12