Caroline Kennedy in Schaumburg: Talking family's legacy, service at Judson forum

  • Caroline Kennedy is interviewed Tuesday by conservative cultural commentator Eric Metaxas at Judson University's World Leaders Forum in Schaumburg.

    Caroline Kennedy is interviewed Tuesday by conservative cultural commentator Eric Metaxas at Judson University's World Leaders Forum in Schaumburg. Courtesy of Judson University

  • Caroline Kennedy is interviewed Tuesday by conservative cultural commentator Eric Metaxas at Judson University's World Leaders Forum in Schaumburg.

    Caroline Kennedy is interviewed Tuesday by conservative cultural commentator Eric Metaxas at Judson University's World Leaders Forum in Schaumburg. Courtesy of Judson University

 
 
Updated 10/9/2019 8:28 AM

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.

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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."

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