ASIJ welcomed Caroline Kennedy, current US Ambassador to Japan, to campus on January 16, 2015. Ambassador Kennedy has close ties to non-profit and charitable works, having served on the board of several non-profit organizations. Her past work also includes positions related to fund-raising for public schools and co-authoring two books on civil liberties.
Ambassador Kennedy opened the morning with a reminder of a moment in American history, a reminder of the fact that our actions and decisions impact the lives of those around us.
Fifty years ago, a civil rights march ended in violent police opposition. This day became known as “Bloody Sunday.” In the wake of Bloody Sunday, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. faced pressure to lead the second of three attempted marches from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama against a court’s restraining orders. Dr. King, marching the very same path as the Bloody Sunday activists, made the decision to stop at the site of the attack, pay respects, and turn around.
This decision on “Turnaround Tuesday” allowed the third attempted march to end safely in Montgomery, where thousands showed support for voting rights. The actions of these protestors and Dr. King’s decision during that second march ultimately lead to passage of the Voting Rights Act.
Ambassador Kennedy recalled the events of this civil rights movement in order to demonstrate that the power of ideas, words, and individual actions can change the world. She spent the morning relating both her personal and professional experiences to students. Ambassador Kennedy’s efforts teach the significance of community and service; we must use our words and actions effectively to advance democratic values and solve the issues we face through the development of international understanding. She further encouraged this generation to explore the close connections between politics, policy, and service.
Interested in what ASIJ does to support the community, Ambassador Kennedy held an open discussion with students who are especially active in service projects. These students had the opportunity to describe their involvement in organizations such as Hands on Tokyo, through which volunteers can coordinate and make community service more accessible to others living in the area. Students also offered their experiences in service activities abroad, including building projects in the Chiang Mai area of Thailand with Abot Kamay and annual Habitat for Humanity trips. Inspiring our younger generation of service leaders Ambassador Kennedy explained, “The service that I did in the 8th grade was some of the most important work that I’ve ever done.”
Ambassador Kennedy kindly reciprocated with details of her current projects, including a South Bronx/Tokyo poetry exchange, and by answering questions. Most notably, she offered advice on creating excitement for community service endeavors, steps for the execution of large-scale ideas, and the reassurance that passion for service can turn into a career.
Before ending her visit, Ambassador Kennedy visited the elementary school for a glimpse of our younger students’ daily activities. She also kindly donated three books to the high school library. One book was her own, “Poems to Learn by Heart,” while the other two detailed aspects of her family life, “Listening In: The Secret White House Recordings of John F. Kennedy,” and “Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy.”
ASIJ and our students are tremendously grateful for the opportunity to openly discuss the nuances of community service with Ambassador Kennedy. Her experiences and advice in this area have certainly been taken to heart. Giving students the opportunity to learn from those with more diverse experiences will allow them to apply that knowledge as they strive to better themselves and their community.
“You are the people we need to solve the challenges of the 21st century.”