We will hear much this weekend about the new memorial honoring Martin Luther King Jr. on the National Mall -- even though the dedication ceremony, timed to coincide with the 48th anniversary of King's famous speech at the Lincoln Memorial, has been postponed due to Hurricane Irene.
As an 18-year-old student entering my freshman year at American University, I was privileged to be in Washington at the time scoping out the campus.
I vividly recall driving around the Memorial late the night before, navigating around thousands of buses parked cheek to jowl.
You knew something special was about to take place. What I have never told before was a truly memorable experience that happened earlier that day, on August 27, the day before Dr. King's speech, (and Lyndon Baines Johnson's birthday) when I was walking through the Capitol with Steven Edelstein, my future roommate.
As we walked through the rotunda, approaching us came Senator Barry Goldwater, the presumptive (and eventual) nominee for the Republican Party in the 1964 presidential race. He actually stopped us, asked our names, where we were from, and what our intended course of study would be. I was quite frankly amazed at how inquisitive he was.
This was no perfunctory inquiry by a very busy senator of two wet-behind-the-ears college freshmen. He was genuinely interested and spent well over 10 minutes with us, during which, Senator Kenneth Keating of New York came by. (Senator Keating would lose re-election to Robert F. Kennedy in 1964). Senator Goldwater urged him to stop and introduced us. But Keating, more true to form of the harried politician, soon departed.
Senator Goldwater, however, lingered, further asking us about various and sundry issues. I still have trouble recounting this unemotionally, especially when you consider that less than three months later I would stand in that same space alone and contemplate the untimely passing of our country's youngest president on Friday, Nov. 22, 1963 at 6 p.m.
In some small yet meaningful way, I feel as if I'm paying tribute to the memory of a man who inspired me to believe that leaders can have an impact on young people's lives, and that there still is some nobility in public service.
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