It was in a student chapel sermon that a young student was exposed to a philosophy that would move a nation, that, in our better moments, moves us still.
During those chapel sermons, the young man began a thought process that would encourage a generation — that challenges us still.
The discovery of the chapel message that led a young John F. Kennedy was documents recently by the Associated Press:
“A document discovered at the Connecticut prep school attended by John F. Kennedy bolsters a theory that a former headmaster provided inspiration for his famous line, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country,’ a school archivist said.
“A notebook where the Choate School headmaster kept fodder for his sermons included a quote from a Harvard University dean who wrote: ‘The youth who loves his Alma Mater will always ask, not ‘What can she do for me?’ but ‘What can I do for her?’’
“Kennedy, who sat through the chapel sermons as a teenager in the 1930s, used similar language when he called the nation to service in his 1961 inauguration address.
“For years after that speech, other alumni of the school in Wallingford, Conn. said they heard an echo of headmaster George St. John’s sermons in Kennedy’s address. But archivist Judy Donald at the school now known as Choate Rosemary Hall said they did not have any evidence until she found the quotation three years ago on the first page of one of his notebooks.”
For those who have drawn encouragement from Kennedy’s words all these years, there is an important message for us all.
The chances are incredibly slim that any of us will be the next John F. Kennedy, but we never know when we may be the next George St. John. We never know when we will be given the chance to encourage someone who will make a difference in our world.
And we do that by challenging ourselves.
Kennedy was not taught to only consider what he could get, but what he could give.
We must challenge ourselves in the same way.
We must challenge our next generation in the same way.
What can we give?
Not, what can we get?
Not what can we take?
Now what can we sponge and expect to have handed over to us?
But what can we do for others?
That is how that young man was challenged. That is how that young man challenged us. And that is how we must challenge ourselves and our future generations.
That is what will make America great, when we challenge ourselves to excel, to do more for others and not simply try to find out what’s in it for us.
That is the message that George St. John passed on to his students, and to a future hero of our nation.
— Chuck Smith