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Lost Innocence on 11-22-63

by Donna Wilson, Ed. D., Durham, N.C.

The crisp and colorful days preceding November 22 were typical for any Midwest autumn. Everyone was looking forward to Thanksgiving and, of course, school holidays!

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I was a junior at North High School, Columbus, Ohio. Returning from lunch break that day, my classmates and I were waiting for the instructor to unlock the chemistry laboratory for our next class. It was just school business as usual on that what-would-forever-be-etched-in our-minds Friday in 1963.

Donna Wilson today

About 1:30 p.m., there were odd crackling noises and intermittent voices from the wall-mounted loudspeaker in our classroom. Sensing echoes from the same loudspeakers from nearby classrooms, most of us thought that the high school's media club members were playing practical jokes with the microphone, until we heard, "The president is dead." What? Where? What's going on here? This is not funny! Whose idea is this?

The next few minutes are lost to the ages. The principal dismissed all classes, students returned to their homes. I lived less than two blocks from the high school and when opening the front door of my home, found my parents sobbing in the living room.

Their tears conveyed, not only shock and dismay, but a shattered innocence from what they knew, had experienced in their lifetime and wanted for their children. Up until that day, I had never witnessed my parents shed tears, despite economic hardships from a depression-era marriage, a World War and now the assassination of a U.S. president.

Equally shocking and sobering were the events that played out on that Friday and during the weekend. As a nation, citizens felt a sense of relief and knowing that justice would prevail with the capture of the president's assassin. It was not to be by week's end. It was not a movie; it was not Law & Order: SVU; it was not CSI: Dallas. It was reality TV. That reality TV continued into the late 1960s with the assassinations of Dr. King and Bob Kennedy.

Now, 50 years later, I share these memories as "an older generation" for others to read, and to learn from one who remembers.

These events shaped my personal and professional goals, then and now.

Find much more on JFK and the anniversary, including a remembrance by CBS journalist Bob Schieffer, and a slideshow of Kennedy family life starting in the late 1950s.

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