Back then, I was a high school senior attending a national CYO convention at the Hilton Hotel. It was our first time ever in New York City, and it was thrilling. At about 12:15, a bunch of us were returning from the NBC studios in Rockefeller Center, where we’d watched The Price Is Right, and, as we neared the Hilton on Sixth Avenue, we found a hubbub of police activity. Someone shouted that the President of the United States was here to make a surprise visit to the CYO convention. He had been speaking earlier that day at the Americana Hotel (now the New York Sheraton) a few blocks away, at the AFL-CIO convention.
We hurried up onto the crowded escalator to get up to the Hilton ballroom, which was wall-to-wall teenagers, and pushed our way into the ballroom. Nancy Sereno actually climbed up onto my shoulders as we pushed our way into the grand ballroom. Pandemonium broke loose when the announcer said, “Boys and girls, the President of the United States, John Fitzgerald Kennedy!”
“My uh, my uh fellow CYO–ers,” he started, and you couldn’t hear anything else besides the roar of the teenaged crowd. I had read that his motorcade was stopping for traffic lights, a controversial move at the time, so I convinced Nancy to head down the escalator with me before he finished speaking in the hope that we could catch a glimpse of his motorcade.
We quickly exited the ballroom and made our way downstairs and outside, and we walked out onto the curb at the corner of Fifty-Fourth Street and Sixth Avenue, and, in a few minutes, I looked about ten feet away, and there was a black Cadillac vehicle heading east on Fifty-Fourth Street, stopped, waiting for the light to change, and there in the backseat passenger side, with the window down, sat John F. Kennedy. I froze at first, then called out, “Mr. President!” He looked at me and smiled, and extended his hand out the window to shake hands, as I ran over toward the limo. Some girls behind me screamed, “The president!” I stretched out my hand as did JFK from inside the limo, and then, at that moment, the light changed, and the limo pulled away. I was inches away from touching his hand. But it was not to be. Nevertheless, that moment is forever etched in my memory, in a kind of slow-motion, freeze-frame way.
It was a moment in time I shall never forget. It was sealed even more firmly into my memory banks by what happened, exactly one week later, to the hour, in Dallas Texas, on a bright sunny day, November 22, 1963.
I will never forget that first-of-the-season pep rally at Oswego Catholic High, fifty years ago, when Father Yennock asked us all to stand together and sing the “Star-Spangled Banner” in the middle of the pep rally, which we all knew was weird, and his announcement, after that, that the president had been shot in Dallas, and had died. Our collective grief was unbearable as we wandered out of St. Francis Hall in a stupor. Our lives forever changed that day, and I don’t think for the better.
While the buildings that once housed Oswego Catholic High School may be gone, the memories of my four years there are etched indelibly into the fabric of my soul.
Excerpt From: John T. Sullivan Jr. “Pee Not Your Pants!.” iBooks; This material may be protected by copyright.