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A scratchy voice from the intercom

Nov 22, 2013 - By Chris Peck

The scratchy voice pouring out from the speaker above the door of eighth-grade math class still plays in my head.

It was lunchtime in the old Riverton Junior High School on West Jackson Avenue (it's now Rendezvous Elementary School).

My classmates and I were all an awkward 13.

We new right away it was something out of the ordinary that day.

The junior high school secretary already had given us the morning announcements about getting flu shots, late bus schedules, and the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.

This was something else.

The box suddenly squawked and came alive with these chilling words: "Attention: President Kennedy has been shot. School will be dismissed.''

It was Nov. 22, 1963.

To think that 50 years have passed since John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas doesn't seem possible to us older folks.

Like the 9/11 attacks, you don't forget where you were when you heard the news that JFK had been assassinated in Dallas.

To those in middle school now, all of that must seems like ancient history. Dusty. Dim. Detached from today's world.

If you are 13 years old today, and attending Riverton Middle School, that means you were born in 2000. To think back 50 years is going into the ancient times -- before cell phones, texting or Facebook posts.

Fifty years ago, we didn't have any of those digital whiz-bang devices that today are as common as a pack of gum in every teen's pocket.

Back then the news of the president being shot came over that school intercom system.

The anniversary of the assassination of JFK offers a learning moment for today's kids.

It's an opportunity to show how history can, in fact, influence lives and events for years to come.

Little things.

After he was shot and killed, presidents quit riding in open convertibles on busy streets.

Big things.

With Kennedy gone, the next president became embroiled in the Vietnam War, which led to huge protests in the street and lit a still-smoldering national debate about what constitutes legitimate civic disobedience vs anti-Americanism.

And always, questions about what might have been different in this country if Kennedy had lived and gone to be president for perhaps six more years.

Kennedy talked about big dreams for America and government -- putting a man on the moon, curing cancer, stamping out racism.

With his presidency cut short, the big dreams were largely muted -- by the Vietnam war, and then Nixon's impeachment, and all the rest. And big ideas for what government might do? How quaint a notion these days.

A bit of Wyoming history goes with JFK's story, too.

Kennedy never would have been President without the State of Wyoming.

In the summer of 1960, then-Sen. Kennedy was locked into a tense contest with Lyndon Johnson. Both me were trying to to win the Democratic presidential nomination at the national convention in Los Angeles.

As the state-by-state voting unfolded that July, it was clear JFK was going to come up just short -- unless Wyoming went all in for him.

Wyoming was the last state to cast its votes.

Ted Kennedy, JFK's younger brother, made his way through the crowd and sat with the Wyoming delegation just before Wyoming cast its votes. Teddy Kennedy's presence may have tipped the scales.

Without even polling the other delegates, the chair of the Wyoming delegation, Tracy McCraken, who was the publisher of the Wyoming-Tribune Eagle in Cheyenne, rose and spoke into the microphone: "Wyoming's vote will make a majority for Senator Kennedy. Wyoming casts all 15 of its votes for the next President of the united States, John Kennedy!''

He was nominated. And won.

And 1,000 days into his first term, JFK assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald.

If you were 13 in Riverton you never forgot where you heard the news.

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