Sitting in front of my 50-inch flat screen tearfully watching this handsome young Barack Obama break the racial barrier and take the oath as the 44th president of the United States, I thought back to January 20, 1961.
Forty-eight years before Barack Obama's inauguration, I was a teenager, sitting in front of a 12-inch Motorola console in faux cherry wood. The black and white screen flickering with snow was caused by the antenna's poor transmission, not the day, which was sunny and even colder in Washington than it was today. History was being made then, as well: the youngest man and the first elected Catholic, 43 year-old John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts was inaugurated as our 35th President.
Much was made that Kennedy reluctantly wore a top hat. Kennedy hated hats. He put his on that day for a while and then removed it. And on a day when the words of his inaugural address condensed into the freezing air, he stood without a topcoat, a symbol of youth and change.
Unemployment in America in 1961 was at 7 percent and the country had gone into recession early in 1960. Today, unemployment is headed into double-digits and we are in a deep recession. But one thing was very different: A day before the inauguration, black students (then called "colored," or "negro" ) held a sit-in at segregated lunch counters in Richmond, the old capital of the Confederacy, 100 miles south of the nation's Capitol. Today, an African-American is President of the United States.
At their inaugurals, both men spoke of change.
Kennedy: "Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans ...."
Obama: "Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends - hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism - these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths."
Both spoke of rights.
Kennedy: America is "unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed and to which we are committed to at home and around the world."
Obama: "The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness."
Both spoke of responsibility.
Kennedy: "Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and success of liberty."
Obama: 'And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more."
Kennedy set his sights on the moon, and created a Peace Corps to serve. Obama wants us to renew the earth, and serve our country in any ways we can. Both men's inaugurals caught the imagination of the world.
President Kennedy's most memorable line: "Ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country." President Obama's? Time will tell.