Friday, November 22, 1963

November 22, 2013

Today’s post was written by guest blogger Dr. Ted Brown, Professor of English and Dean of the College of Humanities and Fine Arts at Murray State University. (Photo credit: the Gettysburg Daily.)

I didn’t know what to expect as I followed the maroon-and-gray tiles down the hallway to Miss Cutter’s room. A few minutes earlier, an agitated voice had come over the intercom in Mr. Mihalko’s math class to announce: “All personnel. President Kennedy has been shot and killed in Dallas. School will be dismissed in 15 minutes. Plans . . . .” The voice went on, but the words no longer registered with me because I could see that something was terribly wrong.

Even a fifth-grader had been able to tell that Mr. Mihalko, a staunch conservative, was no friend of the tousled young president, but the shock and grief now etched on my teacher’s face made it very clear that this was an event transcending political affiliations and all other aspects of everyday life. This was the first time I had ever seen Mr. Mihalko not in total control of the situation, and it made me newly aware that adults were not only people too, but vulnerable ones at that.

The next thing I remember was the long walk to Miss Cutter’s room. That morning Bradley Stewart and I had been caught pushing each other in the coat room and had been commanded to return after school for detention, an order I was now dutifully carrying out. When I entered the room, Bradley was nowhere in sight and Miss Cutter’s head and shoulders were stretched across her desk as she sobbed wildly. Miss Cutter was young and pretty, but she looked neither in that moment. Her face was not only tear-stained — it was empty, broken. Without a word, she violently waved me away, and I knew that there would be no detention for me that day.

As I walked home I heard many more sobs and saw many more shattered faces. I wasn’t sure what it all meant, but I knew that the world had changed forever, and not for the better. The most important lessons we learn in school often go well beyond the prescribed curriculum.

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