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Follow the linked video above to view the panel discussion of the film JFK: The Last Speech. Visit HERE to download the film.

July 1, 2021 online event sponsored by Reunion ’64, Inc., Edinboro University, the San Diego Public Library Foundation, and the Robert Frost Society

JFK: The Last Speech beautifully chronicles President Kennedy’s convocation address to the Amherst College students and faculty on October 26, 1963. In what is widely hailed as one of his greatest speeches, Kennedy used the dedicating of the Frost library to exhort Amherst’s students to use their educations in the service of the public good and to celebrate Robert Frost as an archetype of the artist in a free society. Kennedy hailed Frost as a guardian of democracy, as one who spoke most prominently to the nation’s “spirit and self-comprehension.” Kennedy perceived the artist’s dissenting voice as essential to the nation’s well-being. “When power leads man towards arrogance,” Kennedy declared, “poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the areas of man’s concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of his existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses. For art establishes the basic human truths which must serve as the touchstone of our judgment.” Implicit in Kennedy’s speech is an unequivocal defense of the humanities. As Kennedy made clear in his address to the student body, well-educated citizens, fortified by the lessons of the humanities, possess an enlarged capacity for independent thought. The ability to think and the courage to “sail against the currents of the time” help one develop belief systems that cultivate the high callings of empathy and justice, which serve as bulwarks against corrupt regimes that coerce obedience and destroy lives.

Elisa (Lisa) New is Elisa New is the Director and Host of Poetry in America, director of Verse Video Education, and Powell M. Cabot Professor of American Literature at Harvard University, where she teaches American literature from the Puritans through the present. New created Poetry in America, a PBS series, to bring poetry into living rooms and onto screens of all kinds. The show can be seen on public television and streaming platforms, in schools and libraries, and on airlines. Guests include Joe Biden, Herbie Hancock, Gloria Estefan, Shaquille O’Neal, Elena Kagan, Nas, John McCain, Sonia Sanchez, Tony Kushner, Bill Clinton, Julia Alvarez, Bono, Cynthia Nixon, John Kerry, LisaGay Hamilton, Caroline Kennedy, Katie Couric, Al Gore, and Bill T. Jones. Along with the series, New produces educational materials on American poetry for all ages—from middle- and high-school students, to K-12 teachers, to lifelong learners—distributed by Harvard University, Amplify Education, and Arizona State University.

Jay Parini is a poet, novelist, biographer, screenwriter, and literary critic. He is the D. E. Axinn Professor of English and Creative Writing at Middlebury College. A prolific author, he has published eight novels, six collections of poetry, and twelve books of nonfiction and criticism, including full-length biographies of John Steinbeck, William Faulkner, and Gore Vidal. His biography, Robert Frost: A Life, is a standard in the field of Frost studies, and he lectures frequently on the poet. Jay has been a faculty member at Middlebury College since 1982 and is the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, Christ Church College at Oxford University, and the Institute for Advanced Studies at the University of London.  His most recent book is his memoir, Borges and Me: An Encounter (Doubleday, 2020), which records Parini’s improbable journey through the Scottish Highlands and the bond he forged with one of the twentieth century’s greatest poets.

Ruth-Ellen Kocher is the author of seven collections of poetry, including Third Voice (Tupelo Press, 2016); domina Un/blued (Tupelo Press, 2013), winner of the PEN Open Book Award and the Dorset Prize; and Desdemona’s Fire (Lotus Press, 1999), winner of the Naomi Long Madgett Award for African American Poets. She is a contributing editor at Poets & Writers magazine and serves on the Board of Directors for RASA: Race, Solidarity, and the Arts. She has taught poetry writing at the University of Missouri, Southern Illinois University, the New England College low residency MFA program, the Indiana Summer Writer’s workshop, and Washington University’s Summer Writing program. Kocher has received fellowships from the Cave Canem Foundation, The MacDowell Colony, the Vermont Studio Center, Yaddo, and the National Endowment for the Arts. She is currently a professor of poetry, poetics, and literature at the University of Colorado-Boulder, where she has also served as associate dean of Arts and Sciences and divisional dean of Arts and Humanities.

Neil Bicknell, Amherst ’64 is Executive Producer of the documentary, JFK: The Last Speech and co-editor of the companion book of the same name.  For the past seven years, he has led a team of his Amherst classmates, who have created tonight’s documentary.

Mr. Bicknell’s professional career was in finance, first at IBM, then for thirteen years as head of corporate planning at the Wall Street firms of PaineWebber, Inc. and Goldman Sachs & Co. He subsequently managed his own investment banking firm for twenty years, serving the financial technology industry.

Throughout his career, Mr. Bicknell has been actively engaged in civic activities. He served as a Village Trustee for the Village of Scarsdale, New York, chaired Scarsdale’s non-partisan system, and was president of Scarsdale’s largest civic organization.  He also served as a Board member for the League of Women Voters of New York State. Mr. Bicknell also serves as vice-chair of ReclaimTheAmericanDream.org, Inc., a non-profit, which supports the work of Pulitzer Prize Winning Journalist Hedrick Smith, author of Who Stole the American Dream. 

Robert A. Knox, Amherst ’64, is a Research Oceanographer and Associate Director (emeritus) at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego.  His research has focused on dynamics of the equatorial currents of the oceans, taking him to sea on chartered yachts in the Seychelles, a Royal Air Force launch in the Maldives, and USS Midway, in addition to various research vessels.  As associate director from 1991 to retirement in 2007 he was responsible for the fleet of Scripps research vessels and their technical support groups.  His Amherst undergraduate major was in physics. His Ph.D. is from the MIT-Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Joint Program in Oceanography.

He served several terms as a council member and as chairman of UNOLS (University/National Oceanographic Laboratory System).  After retirement, he returned to serve as Deputy Director for Research at Scripps for over a year.  He is a National Associate of the National Research Council and served on the NRC’s Ocean Studies Board and TOGA (Tropical Ocean/Global Atmosphere) Advisory Panel.

In retirement he has worked on tutoring, mentoring and student support programs for San Diego area high school students from disadvantaged and/or first-generation backgrounds to assist them reaching college, and on programs for UC San Diego students arriving from similar backgrounds to help them adapt to and navigate the rigors of college-level work.

Robert Benedetti is an emeritus professor of Political Science from the University of the Pacific. He graduated from Amherst College in 1964 with majors in English and Political Science. He continued his education at the University of Pennsylvania earning a master’s and a doctorate in Political Science. He taught and was an administrator at New College in Florida before moving to the University of the Pacific as Dean of the College and Professor. He has chaired two state humanities councils, in Florida and California. Currently, he is Secretary of the Renaissance Society at California State University Sacramento, where he teaches classes on American government and the history of the California Delta to seniors. Dr. Benedetti is President of Reunion 64, Inc., which produced JFK: The Last Speech.

Robert Bernard Hass is the author of Going by Contraries: Robert Frost’s Conflict with Science (University of Virginia Press, 2002), which was selected by Choice as an Outstanding Academic Title in 2003, and the poetry collection, Counting Thunder, published by David Robert Books in 2008. He is currently co-editing, with Donald Sheehy, Mark Richardson, and Henry Atmore, the Letters of Robert Frost for Harvard University Press. He has won an Academy of American Poets Prize, an AWP Intro Journals Award, and a creative writing fellowship to the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. As a professor of English and Philosophy at Edinboro University, he has published widely on such figures as Robert Frost, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Wallace Stevens, T.S. Eliot, Hart Crane, and Ezra Pound, and he currently serves as executive director of the Robert Frost Society.

Seth Lerer is a Distinguished Professor of Literature at the University of California at San Diego, where he served as Dean of Arts and Humanities from 2009-2014. The author of a dozen books, he specializes in the History of the English Language, Medieval and Renaissance Literature, Children’s Literature, and poetry and poetics. His book, Children’s Literature: A Reader’s History from Aesop to Harry Potter (Chicago, 2008) won the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Truman Capote Prize in Criticism. He has written on Robert Frost in his book, Tradition: A Feeling for the Literary Past (Oxford, 2016) and in his memoir, Prospero’s Son (Chicago, 2013). His public outreach work includes lectures for The Great Courses (formerly The Teaching Company) and One Day University, and he has been a frequent speaker for San Diego Events sponsored by Words Alive, the San Diego Public Library, and other organizations.

Karla Cordero is a descendant of the Chichimeca people of northern Mexico, a Chicana poet, educator, and ARTtivist. She is a three-time Pushcart nominee and offered fellowships from VONA, Macondo, CantoMundo, The Loft Literary Center, Community of Writers, and Pink Door Writing Retreat. Karla teaches creative writing and composition at San Diego City College and MiraCosta College, receiving recognitions such as the San Diego State University Global Diversity Award and Associate Faculty of the Year for education and social justice.

Karla is the founder of Voice 4 Change: a spoken word showcase, inviting nationally award-winning writers to share their narratives of survival and celebration for diversity through performance and workshop facilitation. She is also the founder of SpitJournal an online literary review for poetry and social justice and is the CFO and the Social Justice Equity Coordinator for the non-profit Glassless Minds, an open mic venue in Oceanside, CA, serving historically underserved youth.

In addition, as a performing artist, Karla is the 2013 Gland Slam Champion, aiding the Elevated San Diego Slam Team to rank 4th in the nation at the National Poetry Slam Competition. She has performed for television networks such as NBC 7 San Diego Art Pulse, TBN Juice Live, and the Old Globe Theater.

Her poems have appeared and forthcoming in The Academy of American Poets, Bettering American Poetry, The BreakBeat Poets Volume 4. LatiNEXT Anthology, among other publications. Karla is the author of the chapbook, Grasshoppers Before Gods (Dancing Girl Press 2016), and her first full-length collection titled, How To Pull Apart The Earth (NOT A CULT. 2018) is a 2019 San Diego Book Award winner and an awarding-winning finalist for the International Book Award and the International Latino Book Award.