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JFK Remembered At His Alma Mater, Choate

Those who were alive on November 22, 1963 remember exactly where they were when they heard President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated. Among those in shocked disbelief were students of what was then known as the Choate School in Wallingford, from which Kennedy graduated.

In his 52 years as baseball coach at Choate, Tom Yankus experienced his share of losses, but none like the void he felt when our 35th president, a member of the class of ‘35, was killed. In his 57th and final year as a Choate English teacher this year, Yankus remembers vividly walking in on the students, in the dorm he was in charge of, after the president’s assassination.

“They sat in my apartment for about seven hours. They missed meals. They just sat there sobbing,” said Yankus.

He added that the pall cast over campus, following Kennedy’s death, made him realize the power JFK had over all of us. And, to this day, Yankus uses Kennedy’s speeches in teaching his classes.

“And we talk about the rhetorical devices and some of the other tidbits that help the kids learn how to write and learn to appreciate good writing,” said Yankus, who is a native of Wallingford.

Kennedy, not surprising to many, was voted most likely to succeed during in his senior year of 1934-35. But, some of his teachers scoffed at that notion, according to Yankus, who taught with teachers who had Kennedy in class.

“All he wanted to do was fool around. I mean, that was his reason for being in school, just to play around and give the faculty a hard time,” said Yankus

Part of the reason JFK fell short of expectations was that his older brother, Joe, set the bar very high at Choate.

“He (Joe) was everything, everything a headmaster would want. A super athlete, super nice and super smart,” said Judy Donald, Choate Rosemary Hall Archivist.

But, in 1946, when JFK returned to campus, for the first time since his graduation 11 years earlier, he delivered a powerful message.

“His challenge to the school, in that speech, was to encourage the school to get its boys involved in the messy world of politics and public affairs,” noted Donald.

The next year, a public affairs course was instituted and has been taught at the school ever since.

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