Caroline Kennedy in Schaumburg: Talking family's legacy, service at Judson forum
Aside from inheriting a famous last name synonymous with American politics, Caroline Kennedy received two innate qualities from her late parents: a legacy of service and a love for reading poetry.
"I had great models and role models in my family," said Kennedy, a progressive Democrat and only surviving child of former President John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, to a crowd Tuesday at Judson University's World Leaders Forum at the Schaumburg Convention Center.
Kennedy was interviewed by conservative cultural commentator Eric Metaxas, a nationally syndicated radio host and founder and host of "Socrates in the City," an acclaimed series of conversations on "life, God and other small topics."
Kennedy, 61, said while the men in her family felt more pressure to continue a tradition of serving in politics, "I was encouraged along the way to be my own person."
An author, lawyer, and diplomat, Kennedy has dedicated much of her life to serving in education and the arts.
She said her mother, grandmother Rose Kennedy and uncle Teddy Kennedy were inspirations by being "such strong personalities."
Kennedy said she got her passion for service from her grandmother, who was "incredibly patriotic" and would quiz her and her brother, the late John F. Kennedy Jr., about the pilgrims, important dates and American history.
It was her grandmother's way of getting them to think about history as being made by people who "give up themselves for their country, community, for others," Kennedy said.
Kennedy said her mother, who often was noted for being a fashion icon, set a great example for herself and her brother through her "intellectual curiosity, her courage and her sense of humor." She also passed down her love of reading, poetry, literature, mythology and history to her children.
"I think that she was somebody who was really true to herself in an incredibly courageous way with the life that she wanted," she said.
Among Kennedy's cherished memories is memorizing and reading classic poetry at Christmastime as a family. "It really made reading the central part of our family life," she said.
Kennedy spoke about serving as a former U.S. ambassador to Japan during President Barack Obama's administration, a role she took on after her children were grown and "out of the house."
"I was completely surprised and completely excited about (it)," she said of the chance to become the first female ambassador to Japan.
Japanese people had a "deep affinity and admiration" for her father due to his service in the Navy while stationed in the Pacific, she said.
In August 1943, JFK's PT-109 along with 14 other PTs engaged with four Japanese destroyers and float planes carrying food, supplies and 900 Japanese soldiers.
"One of the most powerful things that happened to me when I was there, many older people know of my father's war record, what people don't know is he corresponded with the crew of the Japanese destroyer throughout the 1950s," Kennedy said. "He had hoped to visit Japan during his second term and would have been the first sitting president to do that."
Kennedy said her being an ambassador to Japan "brought that whole process of reconciliation to a higher level."
"For Japanese women to see a woman in a very visible role was meaningful ... (and) it was a great chance for me to represent America," she said.
Kennedy urged Judson students in the audience to consider foreign service.
"It's an incredible way of life and a real service to the country," said Kennedy adding, her father emphasized "our responsibilities as citizens, not just our rights."
It requires a sacrifice from each person to give up some time, energy, passion and caring to the nation, she added.
"The more you live in other places the more you see how indispensable this country really is," Kennedy said. "It really does inspire me to want to give back, to be worthy of that sacrifice and legacy that has gone before us. We really have a set of documents and promises, and we can't take this for granted. Our democracy is something that is really precious, and we should treat it that way."
Caroline Bouvier KennedyBorn: Nov. 27, 1957, in New York City
Father: John F. Kennedy, 35th U.S. president, assassinated Nov. 22, 1963
Mother: Jacqueline (Bouvier) Kennedy Onassis, died May 19, 1994, of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma
Sibling: John F. Kennedy Jr., killed July 16, 1999, in a plane crash along with his wife, Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy, and sister-in-law, Lauren Bessette
Husband: Edwin Arthur Schlossberg
Children: John "Jack" Kennedy, 26; Tatiana Celia, 29; Rose Kennedy, 31
Education: Harvard (Radcliffe), B.A., 1980; Columbia University, J.D., 1988
Notable facts: Only surviving child of JFK; inspiration for Neil Diamond's 1969 hit song "Sweet Caroline."
Career and politics:
• Former museum researcher and associate film producer
• Honorary president of the board of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation
• Former CEO of the Office of Strategic Partnerships for the New York City Department of Education
• Emeritus member of the national board of directors for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund
• Addressed the 2000 Democratic National Convention on behalf of Al Gore-Joe Lieberman ticket and spoke at the 2008 convention in a tribute to her uncle Ted Kennedy.
• In 2008, Kennedy sought to fill Hillary Clinton's former Senate seat, previously held by her uncle Robert Kennedy until his death in 1968, but later withdrew her name from consideration.
• Served as U.S. ambassador to Japan, appointed by President Barack Obama, from Nov. 12, 2013, until Jan. 18, 2017.
Source: Daily Herald research