By Ardine Martinelli
November 22, 1963 is etched in my memory, burned in my soul. I was a 20 year-old junior at San Francisco State College. It was Wednesday, and I was excited to finish up my classes and get home to Sacramento for Thanksgiving.
My Child Development class ran from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. After class some of us stayed and talked for about 30 minutes regarding the class assignment and the lecture that day. Finally leaving, I walked across the quad to meet my friends for lunch in the Redwood Room. It was a clear crisp fall day, the leaves crackling beneath my feet. It seemed too quiet in an eerie sort of way. There was not the usual greetings, or laughter, or chatter that generally permeates a college campus. I noticed this, yet really didn’t take notice, until afterwards.
I entered the Redwood Room and again noticed a hush throughout the student center. As I walked up to my friends, they looked up and said, “President Kennedy has been shot.” I remember clearly saying to them, “That’s not even funny.” I turned and walked away, getting in line for lunch. As I stood in line, I began hearing snippets of conversation. “He was shot in the head.” They don’t think he is going to make it.” “It was in Dallas.” My body froze. I suddenly felt numb, knowing it was true. I slowly left the line and walked back to the table. With tears in my eyes I asked my friends what happened. As they were telling me, a voice came over the loudspeaker announcing that President Kennedy had died. There was total silence, the only sound, utensils dropping onto plates.
For most college students, especially at San Francisco State, President Kennedy was our shining light, our hope for the future. I felt I had been kicked in the stomach; I literally bent over and cried. Eventually voices started up, we got up and got our lunches and sat and talked for the rest of the afternoon. All classes had been cancelled until the following Monday.
My cousin, a student at San Jose State, was going to pick me up in front of the school at 4:00 p.m. to drive home to Sacramento. Back then there were no cell phones so I waited around campus sharing my grief with other students. I finally started my walk across campus to 19th Street to meet up with Phil. As I entered the quad, hundreds of students and faculty stood silently, some holding candles, as someone, from a nearby rooftop, played Taps. It echoed out over the entire campus as we all tried to comprehend something that was incomprehensible. Whenever I hear Taps, I am back standing on the quad of San Francisco State College grieving the loss of our President.
Ardine Martinelli has been a member of SCN for two years. She is a Spiritual Director and retreat leader living in Tacoma, WA.