Obama Headlines Dedication of Kennedy Institute

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By Shershah Atif and Taylor Walker
BU News Service

President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden headlined a high-powered guest list of politicians and other invited guests who gathered to dedicate the Edward M. Kennedy Institute in Dorchester today.

“He was my friend, I owe him a lot,” said Obama, championing the efforts of Sen. Ted Kennedy in front of a crowd of more than 2,000.

Speakers cited Kennedy’s national legacy, highlighting his 47 years of service and bi-partisan influence in the US Senate.

“Today, there is cynicism about institutions, government and Washington, D.C.,” said Obama. “It’s hard for kids to see the possibilities of working together — this institute will light the fire of ambition in every person,” he said.

The institute, envisioned by Kennedy before his death, includes a full-scale replica of the U.S. Senate. The institute features an interactive exhibit for visitors to experience and understand how decisions are made in the nation’s capital firsthand by being “sworn in” and participating in mock senate hearings.

Quoting Kennedy’s memoirs, President Obama agreed with Kennedy’s declaration that “being a senator changes a person,” and that it might take time, but being part of the process gives a senator “a heightened sense of purpose.”

“That’s the magic,” Obama said.

Vice President Joe Biden described Senator Kennedy as an older sibling whose encouragement brought him to Capitol Hill. “I would never have been sworn in as a United States senator if it were not for Senator Kennedy’s encouragement,” Biden said.

“He treated me like a little brother and he became my guide,” said Biden.

Recalling Kennedy’s final appearance on the senate floor in 2009 to cast his vote on the divisive Affordable Care Act, Biden noted that “every single senator stood with thunderous applause and tears in their eyes, welcoming back the lion of the senate.”

Sen. John McCain also spoke about Kennedy’s reputation for treating his political rivals with respect, even if he starkly disagreed with them. McCain spurred a roar of laughter from the crowd when he described Kennedy’s “volume and vigor,” recalling Kennedy’s response to a face-to-face dispute with McCain on the senate floor.

“Ted put his arm around me and said, ‘we did a pretty good job, didn’t we,’” McCain said.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker praised Kennedy for getting things done.

“In a business where it is so much easier to stop something from happening than it is to find your way to get something done, this is how [Kennedy] succeeds, by building relationships, keeping trust and following through,” he said.

Following his remarks the president met privately with members of the Kennedy family and viewed a replica of Senator Kennedy’s office, according to White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz.

The $78.4 million institute will open to the public on March 31.

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