As I'm sure you all already know, Ted Kennedy, the Lion of the Senate, passed away early this morning at the age of 77. He had been battling brain cancer since May of last year.
Mr. Kennedy was the last surviving brother of a generation of Kennedys that dominated American politics in the 1960s and that came to embody glamour, political idealism and untimely death. The Kennedy mystique — some call it the Kennedy myth — has held the imagination of the world for decades, and it came to rest on the sometimes too-narrow shoulders of the brother known as Teddy.I was lucky enough to meet and spend a couple of minutes alone with Senator Kennedy in June of 2007 while I was interning in the United States Senate. I was returning back to the Hart Senate Office Building using the underground subway system that runs between the Russell Senate Office Building and the Capitol. I hopped into the subway car and wasn't paying much attention when an elderly man got into the same car that I was sitting in. I realized that it wasn't just any elderly man, but it was Senator Kennedy. He smiled at me and said hello, and as everyone who knows me would predict, I started chatting with him.
Mr. Kennedy, who served 46 years as the most well-known Democrat in the Senate, longer than all but two other senators, was the only one of those brothers to reach old age. President John F. Kennedy and Senator Robert F. Kennedy were felled by assassins’ bullets in their 40s. The eldest brother, Joseph P. Kennedy Jr., died in 1944 at the age of 29 while on a risky World War II bombing mission.
He asked me how my internship was going (which I'm guessing he knew by the bright red color of my Senate ID which all interns have to wear) and asked me what I wanted to do after my internship was over. I told him that upon finishing undergrad I was hoping to go work on a doctorate in political science and become a college professor. I'll never forget what the man told me after I said that: "Great profession. Always remember that your most gratifying memories will come from serving others. Remember that when you become a professor and step into that classroom."
I hadn't really thought back to what he told me until I found out that he passed early today. This morning I walked into a lecture hall with 180 students on the first day of class and that's when those words hit me. I didn't say a word during the lecture and didn't impart any knowledge to those students (since I'm just a lowly TA and not yet a prof) but I truly felt like I was supposed to be there and that I had found my way to serve others.
Rest in peace, Ted Kennedy.