November 22, 1963. I am 17 years old and I am walking into my high school homeroom. Several students with stricken faces are gathered around the teacher, Mr. Nickel, who quietly repeats the same sentence every time someone else joins the huddle. “Yes, President Kennedy is dead. He was assassinated.” I am stunned. All the dead people I know lingered for weeks before they drew their final breaths. I can’t believe the President of the United States could be extinguished in an instant. In fact, I don’t believe it. I look down on my shirt and touch the Kennedy for President button I had been wearing since the 1960 campaign. I sit at my student desk fighting back tears. My father, a teacher whose homeroom is two doors down the hall, steps into Mr. Nickel’s room and looks at me silently. Mrs. Drake, the librarian across the hall, walks in several times to impart the latest rumor. “Johnson has had a heart attack.” “Jackie has fainted.” “The Russians are going to attack.”
None of my memories of that day are faded or hazy.