His stewardship cruelly cut short, he left a record incomplete to such a degree that historians are reluctant to call him a great president, yet none can argue that his legacy is not immense. While living, he was beloved for the way he inspired people across the world with his youth, his vitality and his optimism. Inspiration that is still potent. The uplifting power of his presence and the values he embodied gave hope that we might at last commit the nation to its sacred creed of equal rights for all. His vision sparked a determination to reach beyond our environment into space. His words challenged us to be of service to others. And with grace and style, he and his wife epitomized what it meant to be modern. Fifty years on, his life still matters, his idealism still resonates, and the scar left on our souls by his slaying is still tender.

We have made great advances since that terrible November day, but those who would assassinate hope with the weapons of obstructionism and who denigrate the courage to care with rancorous words ever persist in their efforts to impede our forward progress. In as much as they will not easily lay down their arms, we cannot relax in our effort to reply to his spirit and fight the fight for peace and equality.

In so doing, we should not give credence to the suggestion that imperfection nullifies character, or that achievement is the only measure of greatness. Great figures are made of many traits, and they are many-sided. Those who have left the most indelible stamps on the pages of history are those who inspired others to greatness, and that is his living legacy, as consistent and enduring as the flame that burns at Arlington. It is a call to greatness, an appeal to aspire to a higher purpose, an invitation to hope and dream, a mandate to leave such a legacy ourselves, that when we depart this world we have left it a better place than it was when we arrived.


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