Kennedy Senate Institute
Opens in Dorchester, MA

The Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate opened in Dorchester, Mass. (Photo: Bruce T. Martin)

By Patricia Harty, Editor-in-Chief
April 2, 2015

Chilly weather did not deter the hundreds who turned out for dedication of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate on Monday, March 30, in Dorchester, Massachusetts.

Kennedy who was known as “The Lion of the Senate” for his long tenure (47 years), was warmly remembered in a grand ceremony featuring President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, a host of dignitaries, honored guests and politicians, republican and democratic, including Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh.

First Lady Michelle Obama was also in attendance as were many members of the Kennedy family. The senator’s sons, Ted Jr., now a state senator, and Patrick, a former U.S. representative for Rhode Island (D), both spoke at the dedication ceremony and endorsed the institute as a fitting memorial to their father.

The late senator’s one remaining sibling, Jean Kennedy Smith, the former ambassador to Ireland, was also in attendance, as were his many nieces and nephews, including U.S. Ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, the daughter of his brother John F. Kennedy; Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and Courtney Kennedy, the daughters of his brother Robert; and Maria Shriver, daughter of his sister Eunice.

Many of the younger generation of Kennedys, including his great nephew Congressman Joe Kennedy III, (D-Mass.) were also present.

Senator Kennedy's Capitol Hill office.

Senator Kennedy’s Capitol Hill office.

The opening ceremony was held in a tent in front of the new institute, located in Dorchester, Massachusetts next door to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum. It was an occasion that was marked by moments, small and large.

Jean Kennedy-Smith’s son William insisted that Irish Ambassador Ann Anderson take his scarf to ward off the biting wind that blew in from Dorchester Bay. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend worried about the members of Boston’s Children’s Chorus being frozen and left her seat to try and procure blankets for them, while two of her daughters gave up their coats to the youngsters and another volunteered her shawl. Meanwhile Courtney Kennedy raced about making sure that people had seats.

“Now I know why the Kennedys have so much hair,” Trent Lott quipped. “It’s to keep their heads warm.”

From left: First Lady Michelle Obama, Courtney Kennedy, Peter McLoughlin, Patricia Harty, and President Obama at the Kennedy center opening. (Photo courtesy of the author)

From left: First Lady Michelle Obama, Courtney Kennedy, Peter McLoughlin, Patricia Harty, and President Obama at the Kennedy center opening. (Photo courtesy of the author)

The institute’s mission is to educate the general public, students, teachers, new senators, and Senate staff about the role and importance of the United States Senate, and following the dedication program, a special ceremony in the Institute’s full-scale recreation of the U.S. Senate Chamber was led by Vice President Biden and brought together current and former U.S. Senators with students from all 50 states.

The Vice President recalled Ted Kennedy as a mentor who had looked out for him when he was a freshman senator. “Forgive me for saying in the city of Tip O’Neill, but I think he was wrong that all politics is local. All politics is personal. And no one, no one in my life understood that better than Ted Kennedy,” he said.

The facility also contains a replica of Senator Kennedy’s Senate office in Washington, as he left it when he passed away in 2009 from brain cancer. It is filled with mementos from his life, including several of his own paintings, and both the Irish and American flags.

Victoria Reggie Kennedy, co-founder and president of the EMK Institute’s Board of Directors, explained that the Institute’s mission is help visitors step into the role of U.S. senator for a day and come away with a deeper understanding of the workings of the senate.

Vicki Kennedy.

Vicki Kennedy.

“My husband loved the United States Senate and the incredible difference it could make in people’s lives.

“He thought it was one of the most important institutions in our democracy. And he said many times that the greatest public honor of his life was to serve the people of Massachusetts. And it was Ted’s dream to build a place where everyone could be inspired to feel that same sense of service.”

The President of the Institute, Dr. Jean F. MacCormack, the Dorchester native, who served as Chancellor of UMass Dartmouth for 13 years, explained that by using cutting-edge technology, “we’re making the history of the U.S. Senate come alive like never before. The Institute is taking civic education beyond the classroom and right onto the floor of our replica of the U.S. Senate chamber.”

With a nod to the bipartisan spirit of the late senator, two former Senate leaders, Democratic Tom Daschle and Republican Trent Lott, will serve on the board of directors of the Institute.

Senate Chamber Rendering.

Senate Chamber Rendering.

Speaking on the late senator’s bipartisan politics, Senator McCain (R-Ariz.), commented. “[Teddy] had a real zest for political argument and the harder you went at it the more he enjoyed it and the more he laughed about it when next you met him. I miss fighting with him to be honest. It’s gotten harder to find people who enjoy a good fight as much as Ted did.”

“No one made the Senate come alive like Ted Kennedy,” President Obama said in his remarks.

“What better testament to the life of Ted Kennedy than this place he left for a new generation of Americans – a monument not to himself, but to what we, the people, have the power to do together.”

“Fear so permeates our politics, instead of hope,” Obama said. But “Ted understood the only point of running for office was to get something done — not to posture; not to sit there worrying about the next election or the polls — to take risks.”

The president went on to praise the Kennedy family, saying: “May we all remember the times this American family has challenged us to see what we can do to dream and say why not to seek a cause that endures and sail against the wind in it’s pursuit and live our lives with a heightened sense of purpose.” ♦


EDITOR: This article originally appeared in the June / July 2015 issue of Irish America. 

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