Many believe that President John F. Kennedy unintentionally transferred a leadership virtue to Bill Clinton when the two Americans met on July 24, 1963.

Three months before Clinton was born, his biological father died after one of his car’s tires blew out whilst travelling from Chicago to Arkansas. He was raised by his mother and a step-father who drank too much of alcohol and abused his (Clinton’s) mother.

Clinton was very brainy at school and got selected for the Boys Nation in 1963. The Boys Nation is an educational programme that prepares young people in the United States of America for civic and leadership responsibilities. It is run annually by the American Legion.

The programme is usually held for a week in a forum form at the White House in Washington D.C. where 100 select students (two from each of the 50 states) representing their states as delegates meet with elected officials and government leaders and hold a series of mock legislative sessions.  At the forum, each student is encouraged to push any legislation or bill to be voted on by the other young delegates as a body or a congress. The experience is meant to help the students understand how the American government works.

Clinton was 16 years of age at the time and was not clear in his mind as to what to become in the future. He had always thought about possible careers in law, medicine, music and so on.

Clinton and his wife, Hillary.

On July 24, President Kennedy, who had just returned from a successful tour of Europe, addressed the students in the White House Rose Garden. The president spoke about the importance of public service and praised the young delegates (the students) for their passion about civil rights.

When he finished with the address, the president moved into the crowd and shook hands with the students. As he moved from one student to another, videos and photographs of the presidential handshakes were taken by the press. Clinton, who had been one of Kennedy’s admirers, said he had to muscle his way from the back in the crowd to the front so he could shake hands with his political idol.

“Someday, I’m going to have that job,” 16-year-old Clinton told a fellow young delegate and future Minnesota Congressman, Jim Ramstad, inside a bus on their way back to the dormitories being used for the Boys Nation programme.

The doubts Clinton had always had about his future career ended the day he had an encounter with Kennedy. Clinton calls it a defining moment which influenced his decision to go into public service with a resolute dream of occupying the country’s highest office in the future.

Kennedy and his wife, Jacqueline.

Many photographs were taken at the event, but the photo that captured teenage Clinton and President Kennedy in a firm handshake became the most famous picture 30 years later when Clinton became the 42nd President of the United States of America in 1993.

And Clinton left the Oval Office with the highest end-of-service approval rating of any U.S. president since 1945. That means he was rated higher than even Kennedy himself.

There are many young Clintons waiting for a rare encounter with accomplished Kennedies. And there are many individuals or organisations like the American Legion who should link those Clintons to the Kennedies to help clear their self-doubts and achieve bigger dreams. You or your child could be another Clinton waiting for a life-changing encounter with a Kennedy.

Source: Edward Adeti/Media Without Borders/


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