At Rockhurst University Leadership Series, Caroline Kennedy Speaks of the Importance of Participating in History

Friday, April 6, 2018
Caroline Kennedy

It might seem static, but history is never far away, said former U.S. Ambassador Caroline Kennedy.

Kennedy, the featured guest of the sixth Rockhurst University Leadership Series luncheon, presented with CommunityAmerica Credit Union, on Thursday, April 5, said in her keynote address to a sold-out audience of more than 1,000 in the Muehlebach Tower of the Marriott Downtown that the past has something to teach every era about leadership.

Kennedy’s own father, President John F. Kennedy, was a freshman senator from Massachusetts when he made his first visit to Missouri in 1956 and delivered a similar message as the guest of what was then known as Rockhurst College. He received an honorary degree from the University’s then-president, Rev. Maurice Van Ackeren, S.J., and delivered an address during the annual Rockhurst Day banquet in the Muehlebach Hotel.

“That night he talked about the need for courageous leadership on both a personal level and a national one,” she said. “So nothing’s changed at Rockhurst.”

That message, she said, still resonates. Societies become better by grappling and reconciling with sometimes painful history. That can past can help shape the future. But it can take courage, and a steadfast commitment to fundamental values.

“That’s the kind of leadership my father called for here at Rockhurst,” she said.

Kennedy has also exemplified that kind of leadership — as an attorney, as a New York Times best-selling author and editor, as an advocate for education, and, from 2013 to 2017, as the U.S. Ambassador to Japan, the first woman to hold the position. During that time, she helped realize both the U.S. transfer of land in Okinawa to the Japanese government (the largest such transfer since 1972), but also the visit of the first sitting president to Hiroshima since the United States dropped its first atomic bomb there in 1945.  

In a morning question and answer session with student leaders from Rockhurst University and in her address that afternoon, Kennedy encouraged everyone to find a way to make their world better, saying that changes in the course of history are not the domain of elected leaders alone.

“At the end of the day, we are part of a long running story, we just try to get our paragraph right,” she said. “Getting our paragraph right involves soul searching, but it also involves action. We all must take responsibility for writing the chapter of our time.”

See more photos from the 2018 Rockhurst University Leadership Series luncheon here. Also during the luncheon, the University honored Patricia Cleary Miller, Ph.D., professor emerita of English, with the 2018 Rashford-Lyon Award for Leadership and Ethics.