Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Ted Kennedy’s legacy reached beyond state and party lines

On August 25, 2009, the United States of America lost a true icon.

When the “Lion of the Senate,” Senator Edward Moore Kennedy, departed from this world at the age of 77 after heroically fighting brain cancer for more than a year, he left behind much.

Our most significant souvenir, however, is his legacy. It goes much beyond what he gave to his country. He also taught the lessons that made his unlikely legacy possible — the value of a second chance and the will to endure.

Kennedy, a beloved son of Massachusetts, not only changed the lives of those in his state and country, but he also changed the life of the United States itself. In this fact, Kennedy lives.

In 1968, after his brother Robert Kennedy was assassinated while campaigning for the presidency, Kennedy delivered a powerful eulogy in which he quoted excerpts of a 1966 speech his brother had given on South Africa’s Day of Affirmation. Among the lines read that day were, “Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation.”

Through his 47 years of service in the United States Congress, and the many pieces of legislation he helped to enact, Kennedy helped to shape the history of this nation. Though he did not know it at the time, Kennedy was on the course of bending the course of history and becoming what President Barack Obama called “the greatest senator of our time.”

However, that is only half of Senator Kennedy’s legacy. He left us with two things: the fruit of 47 years’ public service and sentiments that we can glean from his personal experiences just as one might from Aesop’s fables. Anyone who can see more to Ted Kennedy than the Chappaquiddick incident will see the man who made his life’s work from trying to make other people’s lives better.

If Kennedy had wanted to give up and let his personal problems destroy him, it wouldn’t have been surprising. Kennedy may have led a privileged life, but it was by no means an easy one. He was the youngest of the nine Kennedy children born in his generation, a generation that would produce one president, two senators and the founder of the Special Olympics among other professions.

Kennedy had to endure the premature deaths of many of his siblings including the assassination of brother and President John F. Kennedy in 1963 and the assassination of his brother Robert in 1968 as he campaigned for the presidency. Kennedy, himself, survived a plane crash in 1964 that left him with lifelong back pain. That is not to mention Kennedy’s sometimes reckless personal habits, which contributed to his terrible misjudgment at Chappaquiddick in 1969, when Kennedy recklessly drove his car off of a bridge, which killed the passenger. He failed to report it to the police.

Though it was not until he acknowledged his own shortcomings and failures in 1991 that he became the true icon that he is today, Kennedy persevered and flourished after many of his tragedies. He relentlessly tackled issues, starting from his first day in office in 1962 to the very end. His work for universal health care, a hot topic at this very moment, was a lifelong interest that became his “personal cause.” He made a reluctant bid for president in 1980 but lost to incumbent Jimmy Carter during the primary elections.

Kennedy’s losing the presidency in 1980 was a blessing for the United States. It allowed him to stay in the Senate and fight for the causes for which he was passionate and in which he had a solid voice. Kennedy always stood up for the underdog – the poor and disadvantaged. Many of the progressive pieces of legislation passed in recent memory, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, among others, can be traced to Kennedy. He was a man of the people.

Was Kennedy perfect? No, but he is living proof of second chances. He was a man who never gave up on the behalf of others and didn’t fall to the tragedies of his family. Instead, he carried on and was a stronger man for it.

I am proud to have called Ted Kennedy my senator in the state of Massachusetts.

Through it all, he may have the marking “Democrat” next to his name, but in the end he was an American politician. While the Democratic and Republican parties may have different ways of getting there, they are all Americans sharing the same American dream, to make American better.

Just like Kennedy picked up the torch from his brothers, it is now time for a new birth of men and women to come forward and ensure that the dream shall never die and continue making America a better place.

Matt Kushi is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected].

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