Caroline Kennedy delivers Florida Forum address

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International relations, poetry and family were among the topics discussed by Caroline Kennedy in her Florida Forum address on March 5.

Produced by the Women’s Board of Wolfson Children’s Hospital to support the efforts of the hospital, the event drew over 1,300 people to the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts. The daughter of President John F. Kennedy and First Lady "Jackie" Kennedy Onassis engaged in a 30-minute discussion with WJCT News host Melissa Ross, answered questions from the audience and later posed for photos with guests at a post-event reception.

The United States ambassador to Japan from late 2013 to early 2017, Kennedy prominently discussed that diplomatic experience, which she called “a great and unexpected privilege.”

“What I really came to the realization of was how little most Americans know about Japan and how important it is,” Kennedy said to Ross and the audience.

She noted that Japan is the third largest economy in the world and a key trade partner and strategic ally in the region, which is also home to countries like North Korea and China that present the U.S. with short- and long-term challenges.

Kennedy said Japan is very pro-American and dependent on the U.S. for security. As of now, however, she said there’s uncertainty there regarding whether or not the U.S. will be a reliable partner, considering the current American political climate.

The former ambassador addressed the importance of ambassadors and diplomacy when an event attendee asked about the shrinking role of the U.S. State Department across the globe.

“Certainly for (some) countries, their governments will only deal with an ambassador,” she said. “To the extent that the state department looks unimportant to the president, they don’t want to deal with the state department either. … We can work through it in the future, but it’s not a good situation.”

In addition, Kennedy discussed the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award, which was created in 1989 by the Kennedy family to honor those who show political courage and to keep President Kennedy’s values alive. Since the award was created, she explained that the notion of courage has changed, noting that compromise may not have been seen as courage before, but now it certainly exemplifies that value. 

She also talked in length about her family, both her parents and uncles, as well as her own kids and what it has meant for them to grow up with such family history. 

“They are very proud of their heritage,” Kennedy said. “They have actually become interested as they grow up in their grandfather and grandmother. … My uncle Teddy took a real interest in them. They had a close relationship with him.”

Ross asked Kennedy about her passion for poetry, which was inspired by her mother. Kennedy explained that her mother encouraged the family to explore and not be afraid of poetry, prompting them to give poems as gifts for birthdays and holidays. The Florida Forum speaker said her mother saved the family’s poems in a scrapbook, which she said is like “looking at a photograph.”

“It really was at the heart of who she was,” said Kennedy. “It’s something I’ve been really excited to share with my kids.”

Other topics of discussion that evening included patriotism, 9/11 and education, as Kennedy worked as the director of the office of strategic partnerships for the New York City Department of Education in the early 2000s.

For more information on the Women’s Board of Wolfson Children’s Hospital and the Florida Forum Speaker Series, visit https://womensboardwolfsonchildrenshospital.com/2017-2018-florida-forum-speakers/.

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