Policy

Pelosi attended Kennedy’s inauguration as a student in 1961.

This week, President Nancy Pelosi announced that she would be stepping down as party leader, opening the door to a new generation of Democratic lawmakers who will lead the party. The 82-year-old will not retire and will continue to represent her San Francisco district in the House of Representatives.

Regardless, Pelosi’s statement marks the end of an era and signals that he will likely disappear from the political spotlight in the coming years. That being said, this occasion provides an opportunity to look back on one of Pelosi’s first forays into national politics: attending the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy as a 20-year-old student.

Nancy Pelosi meets President John F. Kennedy after his inauguration in 1961. – Nancy Pelosi/Facebook

Pelosi met the young president that day, and the photo was taken and preserved. In 2011, on the 50th anniversary of the inauguration, Pelosi posted a photo on Facebook. She recalled being “a young Trinity College student standing outside in the sunshine in the freezing cold” watching Kennedy deliver his iconic speech.

“Many of us were privileged to be there to see our inspiring new President. But in remote places, people from all over the country and the world watched. For them too, it was the moment that defined our time – an hour we will hear about in times to come.” Pelosi said at a Washington, D.C. anniversary ceremony. “There was a sense that not only had the torch been passed, but that each of us could lead it further in our own way.”

This wasn’t the first time Pelosi publicly reflected on the day. In Conversation from 2008 at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Pelosi detailed the “spectacular” occasion.

Pelosi said it was “frosty” but had great seats because her father was a former member of Congress. Thomas D’Alesandro Jr., Pelosi’s father, was a congressman and mayor of Baltimore.

Pelosi with parents and JFK 6376fa0b5a119 scaled
Thomas D’Alesandro Jr., former mayor of Baltimore, talks with President John Kennedy at the White House in Washington, D.C., on March 28, 1961, after taking the oath of membership in the Federal Renegotiation Council. Anunciata D’Alesandro and their daughter, Nancy, on the left, are in the background. – William Allen/Associated Press, files

Pelosi said she was hit by Kennedy speech. It wasn’t Kennedy’s famous statement “ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country”, but a phrase that came after what Pelosi remembers most.

“My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for human freedom.”

Pelosi recalled this point while watching a young senator from Illinois run for president in the summer of 2008.

“This … should be our call to clarify: what we can do by working together for freedom, cooperation, cooperation and mutual respect, not condescension, disrespect, my way or highway,” Pelosi said at the JFK Library.

“It reminded me of … what President Kennedy said at the time … It’s about who we are as a nation and how we’re lifting the country up, and this debate should be worthy of the office of president of the United States.”

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