Nancy Pelosi attended JFK’s inauguration in 1961. This is how she remembers it


Pelosi attended Kennedy’s inauguration as a college student in 1961.

This week, Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that she would step down from party leadership, opening the door for a new generation of Democratic lawmakers to lead the party. The 82-year-old will not retire, and will continue to represent her San Francisco district in the House. 

Regardless, Pelosi’s announcement marks the end of an era and signals that she will likely recede from the political limelight in coming years. That being said, the occasion does offer an opportunity to look back at one of Pelosi’s first forays into national politics: attending the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy as a 20-year-old student. 

Nancy Pelosi attended JFK's inauguration in 1961. This is how she remembers it
Nancy Pelosi meeting President John F. Kennedy after his inauguration in 1961. – Nancy Pelosi/Facebook

Pelosi met the young president that day, and the image was captured and preserved. In 2011, on the 50th anniversary of the inauguration, Pelosi posted the photo on Facebook. She recalled being “a young Trinity College student standing outside in the sunlit cold” watching Kennedy deliver a now-iconic speech. 

“Many of us were privileged to be there to see our new, inspiring President. But in places far away, people across the nation and the world watched. For them as well, it was a moment that defined our time – an hour that would be heard in times to come,” Pelosi said at a ceremony in Washington, D.C. to honor the anniversary. “There was a sense not only that the torch had been passed, but that each of us could carry it forward in our own way.”

This was not the first time Pelosi publicly reflected on the day. In a 2008 conversation at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Pelosi detailed the “spectacular” occasion.

Pelosi said it was “freezing cold,” but that she had great seats due to her father being a former member of congress. Thomas D’Alesandro Jr., Pelosi’s father, served as a congressman and as Mayor of Baltimore. 

Nancy Pelosi attended JFK's inauguration in 1961. This is how she remembers it
Thomas D’Alesandro, Jr., former Mayor of Baltimore, talks on March 28, 1961, at the White House in Washington with President John Kennedy after taking the oath to become a member of the Federal Renegotiation Board. Anunciata D’Alesandro and their daughter, Nancy, left, are in the background. – William Allen/Associated Press, File

Pelosi said she was struck by Kennedy’s speech. It was not Kennedy’s famous “ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country” line, but the sentence that came after which Pelosi remembers most.

“My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.”

Pelosi was reminded of this line as she watched a young senator from Illinois campaigning to be President in the summer of 2008. 

“This… should be our clarion call: what we can do working together for freedom, about cooperation, collaboration, and respect for each other, not condescension, disrespect, my way or the highway,” Pelosi said at the JFK Library. 

“It reminded me… of what President Kennedy said at that time… It’s about who we are as a nation and how we lift the country up and that debate should be worthy of the office of President of the United States.”

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