Situated on the edge of Columbia Point and overlooking the waters of Boston Harbor and the city skyline, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum greets its visitors with a refreshing convergence of modernist architecture and grassy hills. Any sense of Cambridge’s bustling city atmosphere is absent in the breathtaking landscape surrounding the Library. And so in early October, I went on a short ride on the Red Line from Harvard Square to JFK/UMass station to pay a visit to this iconic institution. It was not only a trip back in time, but also a reminder of the challenges that confront us today.

It was not only a trip back in time, but also a reminder of the challenges that confront us today.

It’s called a “Library,” but it’s really an experience, as the Museum immerses visitors in the culture and politics of 1960s America through sight and sound. During my tour, the voice of President John F. Kennedy ’40, a former Crimson editor, followed me from beginning to end, accompanying me through live recordings of his presidential debate against President Richard Nixon and his inspiring inaugural address. Lining the walls was a series of exhibits chronicling President Kennedy’s greatest achievements in foreign policy and domestic politics, all of which are displayed in a long hallway modeled after the interior of the White House itself.

JFK at podium
President Kennedy speaks at a news conference. During my tour, the voice of President Kennedy followed me from beginning to end.

Among these exhibits, the museum’s 14-minute documentary on the Cuban Missile Crisis chronicles one of the most important moments in U.S. history.. The brief but comprehensive film thoroughly examines the height of the Cold War and incorporates the use of Kennedy’s secret White House tapes—exclusive material from the Library’s very own archives. The display showcases the late president’s natural talent for statecraft and commitment to defusing international tensions through political professionalism and human empathy.

The display showcases the late president's natural talent for statecraft and commitment to defusing international tensions through political professionalism and human empathy.

In celebration of the 100th anniversary of the birth of President Kennedy, the museum has organized JFK 100: Milestones and Mementos, a special exhibition featuring belongings from each stage of his life. His personal memorabilia range from his drawings as a young child to his neckties and handwritten notes for his 1963 address to the nation regarding civil rights. A separate collection in the Library’s waiting room focuses on his earlier years, showcasing his less-than-stellar academic performance at Choate, detailing his growing interest in political philosophy as an upperclassman at Harvard College, and describing his acts of heroism as a Navy Lieutenant in World War II. While a significant portion of these exhibits allowed me to understand the more human and relatable aspects of Kennedy, others illustrated his unprecedented success with overcoming religious bigotry during his presidential campaign and minimizing global military conflict.

JFK and Caroline Kennedy
Kennedy and his daughter, Caroline, aboard the presidential yacht. A significant portion of these exhibits allowed me to understand the more human and relatable aspects of Kennedy.

A single visit to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum was enough for me to be moved by the inspirational messages that President Kennedy instilled in Americans during the emergence of both the Nuclear Age and a period of growing divisions across racial lines. Open seven days a week, the Library guarantees an incredibly engaging experience for anyone seeking a different view of Boston, a trip back in time, and a chance to experience the life and career of one of the nation’s greatest leaders. Plus, there’s no better time than now to come see the Library during a free afternoon, as Harvard students with a valid ID receive half-price admission.

Learn more about the Library at https://www.jfklibrary.org.


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