On Thursday, September 19, 2019, the official 100th anniversary of its opening, Emmanuel College welcomed diplomat, attorney and best-selling author Caroline Kennedy to its Fenway campus to deliver the keynote address at Academic Convocation, an annual tradition which signifies the formal beginning of the academic year. Nearly 1,500 students, faculty, alumni, parents, staff and friends were in attendance.
"Certainly, the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur have always understood education's power to open doors and transform lives," President Sr. Janet Eisner, SNDdeN, said during her opening remarks. "It was this vision that led them, in 1919, to establish Emmanuel as New England's first Catholic college for women, a full year before women secured the constitutional right to vote.
"And it worked. Emmanuel's early graduates, many the first in their families to attend college, advanced to the forefront of opportunities in medicine, the law, media and education, as well as aerospace and other emerging fields."
"More than ever, our world needs the light of those who question, who create, and who consistently look beyond themselves to build a more just, peaceful and sustainable world for all." - Sr. Janet Eisner, SNDdeN
"I feel you were destined to be here today," Sr. Janet said to Ambassador Kennedy. "Emmanuel's 100th anniversary marks 70 years since your father, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, then a member of Emmanuel's advisory board and a U.S. Congressman, gave the Commencement address in 1949."
Sr. Janet also noted that in 1941, Emmanuel College conferred an honorary degree on Sister Katharine Drexel, who has family connections to the Bouviers and was later canonized as a Saint for her work with Native Americans and African Americans. And just 15 years ago, the College community came together to dedicate the then-new Jean Yawkey Center. On that occasion, Senator Edward Kennedy gave inspirational remarks from the very same stage.
"My family history has intersected in many ways with Emmanuel over the years, which gives me great hope for the future," said Ambassador Kennedy.
Kennedy, who celebrated her late father's Centennial in 2017 with a yearlong celebration at Boston's John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, noted that "Centennials are about what's timeless, what lasts beyond 100 years." In her father's case, it was important to look back on the public service he inspired.
"John F. Kennedy's immortal call to service is one of this country's defining moments," she said. "And now it is our turn to become engaged citizens, and our responsibility to form a more perfect union."
"We are the only country founded on an ideal; we don't have kings or ancient monuments...but they are only words unless generations uphold our responsibility to keep them." - Ambassador Caroline Kennedy
Kennedy, who was inspired to engage in public service after the September 11th attacks, served as the 29th United States Ambassador to Japan under President Barack Obama. During her tenure she helped realize the United States military's return of land on Okinawa to the Japanese government, the largest land transfer since 1972, became an advocate for Japanese women in business and politics, and played a pivotal role in President Barack Obama's historic visit to Hiroshima.
While both Americans and Japanese were skeptical of the 2016 visit, Kennedy witnessed President Obama make a key change to his speech while aboard Air Force One.
"The speech originally said, 'This is a future we can choose, a future in which Hiroshima and Nagasaki are known not as the dawn of atomic warfare but as the end,' but he changed it to say, 'This is a future we can choose, a future in which Hiroshima and Nagasaki are known not as the dawn of atomic warfare but as the start of our own moral awakening," she said.
President Obama asking the audience to focus on the meaning of Hiroshima and to see one another not as enemies but as a members of a human family struck a chord with Kennedy's own family history. In August 1943, her father's patrol torpedo boat was cut in half by a Japanese destroyer in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. In later years, as an elected official, he developed a friendship with the commander of the destroyer Amagiri, Kohei Hanami. Ambassador Kennedy was able to meet Hanami's widow during the opening of "JFK: His Life and Legacy" at the National Archives of Japan in Tokyo.
"One of her most treasured possessions was a photograph in which my father had inscribed, 'To Captain Hanami, late enemy and present friend,'" she said. "Healing is possible."
Kennedy noted that to be an active and engaged citizen is to be able "to see a better future and inspire others to create it," and implored the Class of 2020 to think about what problems they wanted to solve.
"Think about Emmanuel College at its Bicentennial and how much we need to do," Kennedy said. "We don't have much time."
"Your call to action today, Caroline, echoes that of your father, who in his inaugural address stirred a generation," Sr. Janet said. "As we go forth to celebrate and renew Emmanuel's educational mission, let us recall his most memorable words: 'With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God's work must truly be our own.'"