John F. Kennedy Assassination Essay

Introduction, works cited.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s assassination is considered to be one of the most mysterious events in the history of the United States of America. The date — November 22, 1963 — is known to everyone as a shocking and tragic day. It was found out that the gunman who shot John F. Kennedy (JFK) was Lee Harvey Oswald. There are a lot of theories why he did it, who were his companions, and what was the reason for the murder. John F. Kennedy was fatally shot in a presidential motorcade in Dallas, Texas.

Some scholars consider that there are no conspiracy theories. All of them are nothing else but just hoaxes. Researchers prefer to believe that the only conspiracy may be the fact that a small number of organizations rule the whole world (Marshall 1). Nevertheless, the reality shows that conspiracy theories do exist and that they are controversial. Conspiracy theories are easy to claim, but it is also difficult to dethrone them. Some people consider them to be simply entertainment. The word “conspiracy” means something secret, a hidden plan to conduct an illegal activity (Goertzel par.11).

The conspiracy theory of the JFK assassination may be further subdivided into many branches. Every separate branch represents a particular version of who, how, and what for has organized the crime. The number of culprits is immense. The list has been filled up for almost fifty years. The details of John F. Kennedy’s death were unknown, and they were turned into speculations and conspiracies immediately after the shot. A lot of reporters were eager to write the best reporting in their lives. That is why they started investigating and finding out what were the possible theories. They were the founders of the whole culture and cult, which entwined the assassination (George 136).

The Central Intelligence Agency belongs to the group of one of the most popular suspects. This version was developed based on the intense relations between the President and the director of the CIA of those times — Allen W. Dulles. The theory came into existence because John F. Kennedy’s brother, Robert “Bobby” Kennedy, thought at first that the CIA handled the assassination. However, he changed his mind later. The aim of the CIA under Dulles was to fight and win the leadership in some of the foreign countries (Iran or Guatemala, for instance). The means of achieving goals were mainly armed attacks. When Kennedy became the president, everything became different. He preferred more diplomatic ways and at the same time, Kennedy was not absolutely against the CIA’s actions. The first great division of interests took place when Kennedy refused to support the Bay of Pigs invasion, the primary target of which was Fidel Castro. Dulles’ failure cost him his position. It was also noted, that once John F. Kennedy made a statement in a New York Times, introducing the idea that he would break the CIA into thousands of pieces. Thus, it would be no surprise that the CIA would choose its method of doing things and getting rid of a person, who stood in their way (Burgos 1). It is only one part of the conspiracy theory surrounding the John F. Kennedy assassination.

Leroy Fletcher Prouty was a Chief of Special Operations under Kennedy’s presidency. He was the colonel of the US Armed Forces. After Party had retired, he became a critic of the foreign policy of the U.S. He also made a significant claim about the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Colonel Fletcher Pourty had a real knowledge of what was going on in the government. He acknowledged that the President was killed because of his policies concerning Vietnam. John F. Kennedy was a wise man, who understood that the invasion of Vietnam would become a disaster. Unfortunately, he was the only one who thought so among other officials.

John F. Kennedy signed National Security Action Memorandum 263, the central point of which was the total withdrawal of the U.S. military groups and all other personnel from Vietnam by 1965. This order did not coincide with the interests of the military and the CIA officials. That is why, according to Prouty’s claim, an organized group was formed to remove Kennedy from his position. The Vietnam War was an extremely profitable operation. The United States could not afford to start a large-scale war in the age of nuclear weapons. The only possible decision was starting a small, unimportant one for the rest of the world war. There was no significant object or city in Vietnam, the siege of which might have led to the declaration of a great war. Such activity is also called “stateless terrorism.” One can only imagine how Vietnam could resist a highly developed U.S. Armed Forces. John F. Kennedy understood all of this and was against those policies. Military commanders urged Kennedy several times to change his policies, but the President constantly refused (Prouty 8). Probably, he had to pay his life for this decision.

The conspiracy theory of the CIA involvement in the JFK assassination still lacks one part — the connection with the gunman Lee Harvey Oswald. He may be regarded as the last constituent of this jigsaw puzzle. The most important question was whether Oswald was the CIA agent. According to Newman, Oswald has always been interested Central Intelligence Agency since he defected to the Soviet Union in 1959 and till the end of his life. Of course, the CIA officials refused the claim that Oswald was somehow connected with the agency. On the contrary, the testimony of James Willcott, the CIA finance officer, proved the fact that a kind of relations took place (Newman 12). During the time spent in USSR, Lee Harvey Oswald might become a KGB agent, or just interested in communist ideas.

The conspiracy theory under consideration should be thought of as a controversial one. The claim that the JFK assassination was organized by the CIA is of great significance. That is why it was impossible to prove it. In my opinion, the creators of this theory were looking for success and popularity. On the other hand, there could be a significant number of other ways to present the assassination. Such facts as Prourty’s evidence, Willcott’s testimony, and the simple observation of history make one think that the claim may be right.

There is no doubt that such statements are made with special purposes. Maybe some researcher has been looking for truth, and that is the main reason why the JFK assassination conspiracy theory exists. The CIA has its enemies as well. Probably such avouchment should have undermined the CIA’s reputation.

In my opinion, too many years have already passed to find out the truth. The described conspiracy theory has the right to existence, but I will not affirm that it represents the truth.

Burgos, Evan 2013, An inside job: CIA a suspect for some in JFK’s killing . Web.

George, Alice. The Assassination of John F. Kennedy: Political Trauma and American Memory , London: Routledge, 2013. Print.

Goertzel, Ted. “The Conspiracy Meme.” Skeptical Inquirer 35.1 (2011): n.pag. Web. 2015.

Marshall, Andrew 2012, No Conspiracy Theory — A Small Group of Companies Have Enormous Power over the World. 2015. Web.

Newman, John. Oswald and the CIA: The Documented Truth About the Unknown Relationship Between the U.S. Government and the Alleged Killer of JFK , New York: Skyhorse Publishing, Inc., 2013. Print.

Prourty, Leroy Fletcher. JFK: The CIA, Vietnam, and the Plot to Assassinate John F. Kennedy , New York: Skyhorse Publishing, Inc., 2013. Print.

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Need to defend your opinion on an issue? Argumentative essays are one of the most popular types of essays you’ll write in school. They combine persuasive arguments with fact-based research, and, when done well, can be powerful tools for making someone agree with your point of view. If you’re struggling to write an argumentative essay or just want to learn more about them, seeing examples can be a big help.

After giving an overview of this type of essay, we provide three argumentative essay examples. After each essay, we explain in-depth how the essay was structured, what worked, and where the essay could be improved. We end with tips for making your own argumentative essay as strong as possible.

What Is an Argumentative Essay?

An argumentative essay is an essay that uses evidence and facts to support the claim it’s making. Its purpose is to persuade the reader to agree with the argument being made.

A good argumentative essay will use facts and evidence to support the argument, rather than just the author’s thoughts and opinions. For example, say you wanted to write an argumentative essay stating that Charleston, SC is a great destination for families. You couldn’t just say that it’s a great place because you took your family there and enjoyed it. For it to be an argumentative essay, you need to have facts and data to support your argument, such as the number of child-friendly attractions in Charleston, special deals you can get with kids, and surveys of people who visited Charleston as a family and enjoyed it. The first argument is based entirely on feelings, whereas the second is based on evidence that can be proven.

The standard five paragraph format is common, but not required, for argumentative essays. These essays typically follow one of two formats: the Toulmin model or the Rogerian model.

  • The Toulmin model is the most common. It begins with an introduction, follows with a thesis/claim, and gives data and evidence to support that claim. This style of essay also includes rebuttals of counterarguments.
  • The Rogerian model analyzes two sides of an argument and reaches a conclusion after weighing the strengths and weaknesses of each.

3 Good Argumentative Essay Examples + Analysis

Below are three examples of argumentative essays, written by yours truly in my school days, as well as analysis of what each did well and where it could be improved.

Argumentative Essay Example 1

Proponents of this idea state that it will save local cities and towns money because libraries are expensive to maintain. They also believe it will encourage more people to read because they won’t have to travel to a library to get a book; they can simply click on what they want to read and read it from wherever they are. They could also access more materials because libraries won’t have to buy physical copies of books; they can simply rent out as many digital copies as they need.

However, it would be a serious mistake to replace libraries with tablets. First, digital books and resources are associated with less learning and more problems than print resources. A study done on tablet vs book reading found that people read 20-30% slower on tablets, retain 20% less information, and understand 10% less of what they read compared to people who read the same information in print. Additionally, staring too long at a screen has been shown to cause numerous health problems, including blurred vision, dizziness, dry eyes, headaches, and eye strain, at much higher instances than reading print does. People who use tablets and mobile devices excessively also have a higher incidence of more serious health issues such as fibromyalgia, shoulder and back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, and muscle strain. I know that whenever I read from my e-reader for too long, my eyes begin to feel tired and my neck hurts. We should not add to these problems by giving people, especially young people, more reasons to look at screens.

Second, it is incredibly narrow-minded to assume that the only service libraries offer is book lending. Libraries have a multitude of benefits, and many are only available if the library has a physical location. Some of these benefits include acting as a quiet study space, giving people a way to converse with their neighbors, holding classes on a variety of topics, providing jobs, answering patron questions, and keeping the community connected. One neighborhood found that, after a local library instituted community events such as play times for toddlers and parents, job fairs for teenagers, and meeting spaces for senior citizens, over a third of residents reported feeling more connected to their community. Similarly, a Pew survey conducted in 2015 found that nearly two-thirds of American adults feel that closing their local library would have a major impact on their community. People see libraries as a way to connect with others and get their questions answered, benefits tablets can’t offer nearly as well or as easily.

While replacing libraries with tablets may seem like a simple solution, it would encourage people to spend even more time looking at digital screens, despite the myriad issues surrounding them. It would also end access to many of the benefits of libraries that people have come to rely on. In many areas, libraries are such an important part of the community network that they could never be replaced by a simple object.

The author begins by giving an overview of the counter-argument, then the thesis appears as the first sentence in the third paragraph. The essay then spends the rest of the paper dismantling the counter argument and showing why readers should believe the other side.

What this essay does well:

  • Although it’s a bit unusual to have the thesis appear fairly far into the essay, it works because, once the thesis is stated, the rest of the essay focuses on supporting it since the counter-argument has already been discussed earlier in the paper.
  • This essay includes numerous facts and cites studies to support its case. By having specific data to rely on, the author’s argument is stronger and readers will be more inclined to agree with it.
  • For every argument the other side makes, the author makes sure to refute it and follow up with why her opinion is the stronger one. In order to make a strong argument, it’s important to dismantle the other side, which this essay does this by making the author's view appear stronger.
  • This is a shorter paper, and if it needed to be expanded to meet length requirements, it could include more examples and go more into depth with them, such as by explaining specific cases where people benefited from local libraries.
  • Additionally, while the paper uses lots of data, the author also mentions their own experience with using tablets. This should be removed since argumentative essays focus on facts and data to support an argument, not the author’s own opinion or experiences. Replacing that with more data on health issues associated with screen time would strengthen the essay.
  • Some of the points made aren't completely accurate , particularly the one about digital books being cheaper. It actually often costs a library more money to rent out numerous digital copies of a book compared to buying a single physical copy. Make sure in your own essay you thoroughly research each of the points and rebuttals you make, otherwise you'll look like you don't know the issue that well.


Argumentative Essay Example 2

There are multiple drugs available to treat malaria, and many of them work well and save lives, but malaria eradication programs that focus too much on them and not enough on prevention haven’t seen long-term success in Sub-Saharan Africa. A major program to combat malaria was WHO’s Global Malaria Eradication Programme. Started in 1955, it had a goal of eliminating malaria in Africa within the next ten years. Based upon previously successful programs in Brazil and the United States, the program focused mainly on vector control. This included widely distributing chloroquine and spraying large amounts of DDT. More than one billion dollars was spent trying to abolish malaria. However, the program suffered from many problems and in 1969, WHO was forced to admit that the program had not succeeded in eradicating malaria. The number of people in Sub-Saharan Africa who contracted malaria as well as the number of malaria deaths had actually increased over 10% during the time the program was active.

One of the major reasons for the failure of the project was that it set uniform strategies and policies. By failing to consider variations between governments, geography, and infrastructure, the program was not nearly as successful as it could have been. Sub-Saharan Africa has neither the money nor the infrastructure to support such an elaborate program, and it couldn’t be run the way it was meant to. Most African countries don't have the resources to send all their people to doctors and get shots, nor can they afford to clear wetlands or other malaria prone areas. The continent’s spending per person for eradicating malaria was just a quarter of what Brazil spent. Sub-Saharan Africa simply can’t rely on a plan that requires more money, infrastructure, and expertise than they have to spare.

Additionally, the widespread use of chloroquine has created drug resistant parasites which are now plaguing Sub-Saharan Africa. Because chloroquine was used widely but inconsistently, mosquitoes developed resistance, and chloroquine is now nearly completely ineffective in Sub-Saharan Africa, with over 95% of mosquitoes resistant to it. As a result, newer, more expensive drugs need to be used to prevent and treat malaria, which further drives up the cost of malaria treatment for a region that can ill afford it.

Instead of developing plans to treat malaria after the infection has incurred, programs should focus on preventing infection from occurring in the first place. Not only is this plan cheaper and more effective, reducing the number of people who contract malaria also reduces loss of work/school days which can further bring down the productivity of the region.

One of the cheapest and most effective ways of preventing malaria is to implement insecticide-treated bed nets (ITNs).  These nets provide a protective barrier around the person or people using them. While untreated bed nets are still helpful, those treated with insecticides are much more useful because they stop mosquitoes from biting people through the nets, and they help reduce mosquito populations in a community, thus helping people who don’t even own bed nets.  Bed nets are also very effective because most mosquito bites occur while the person is sleeping, so bed nets would be able to drastically reduce the number of transmissions during the night. In fact, transmission of malaria can be reduced by as much as 90% in areas where the use of ITNs is widespread. Because money is so scarce in Sub-Saharan Africa, the low cost is a great benefit and a major reason why the program is so successful. Bed nets cost roughly 2 USD to make, last several years, and can protect two adults. Studies have shown that, for every 100-1000 more nets are being used, one less child dies of malaria. With an estimated 300 million people in Africa not being protected by mosquito nets, there’s the potential to save three million lives by spending just a few dollars per person.

Reducing the number of people who contract malaria would also reduce poverty levels in Africa significantly, thus improving other aspects of society like education levels and the economy. Vector control is more effective than treatment strategies because it means fewer people are getting sick. When fewer people get sick, the working population is stronger as a whole because people are not put out of work from malaria, nor are they caring for sick relatives. Malaria-afflicted families can typically only harvest 40% of the crops that healthy families can harvest. Additionally, a family with members who have malaria spends roughly a quarter of its income treatment, not including the loss of work they also must deal with due to the illness. It’s estimated that malaria costs Africa 12 billion USD in lost income every year. A strong working population creates a stronger economy, which Sub-Saharan Africa is in desperate need of.  

This essay begins with an introduction, which ends with the thesis (that malaria eradication plans in Sub-Saharan Africa should focus on prevention rather than treatment). The first part of the essay lays out why the counter argument (treatment rather than prevention) is not as effective, and the second part of the essay focuses on why prevention of malaria is the better path to take.

  • The thesis appears early, is stated clearly, and is supported throughout the rest of the essay. This makes the argument clear for readers to understand and follow throughout the essay.
  • There’s lots of solid research in this essay, including specific programs that were conducted and how successful they were, as well as specific data mentioned throughout. This evidence helps strengthen the author’s argument.
  • The author makes a case for using expanding bed net use over waiting until malaria occurs and beginning treatment, but not much of a plan is given for how the bed nets would be distributed or how to ensure they’re being used properly. By going more into detail of what she believes should be done, the author would be making a stronger argument.
  • The introduction of the essay does a good job of laying out the seriousness of the problem, but the conclusion is short and abrupt. Expanding it into its own paragraph would give the author a final way to convince readers of her side of the argument.


Argumentative Essay Example 3

There are many ways payments could work. They could be in the form of a free-market approach, where athletes are able to earn whatever the market is willing to pay them, it could be a set amount of money per athlete, or student athletes could earn income from endorsements, autographs, and control of their likeness, similar to the way top Olympians earn money.

Proponents of the idea believe that, because college athletes are the ones who are training, participating in games, and bringing in audiences, they should receive some sort of compensation for their work. If there were no college athletes, the NCAA wouldn’t exist, college coaches wouldn’t receive there (sometimes very high) salaries, and brands like Nike couldn’t profit from college sports. In fact, the NCAA brings in roughly $1 billion in revenue a year, but college athletes don’t receive any of that money in the form of a paycheck. Additionally, people who believe college athletes should be paid state that paying college athletes will actually encourage them to remain in college longer and not turn pro as quickly, either by giving them a way to begin earning money in college or requiring them to sign a contract stating they’ll stay at the university for a certain number of years while making an agreed-upon salary.  

Supporters of this idea point to Zion Williamson, the Duke basketball superstar, who, during his freshman year, sustained a serious knee injury. Many argued that, even if he enjoyed playing for Duke, it wasn’t worth risking another injury and ending his professional career before it even began for a program that wasn’t paying him. Williamson seems to have agreed with them and declared his eligibility for the NCAA draft later that year. If he was being paid, he may have stayed at Duke longer. In fact, roughly a third of student athletes surveyed stated that receiving a salary while in college would make them “strongly consider” remaining collegiate athletes longer before turning pro.

Paying athletes could also stop the recruitment scandals that have plagued the NCAA. In 2018, the NCAA stripped the University of Louisville's men's basketball team of its 2013 national championship title because it was discovered coaches were using sex workers to entice recruits to join the team. There have been dozens of other recruitment scandals where college athletes and recruits have been bribed with anything from having their grades changed, to getting free cars, to being straight out bribed. By paying college athletes and putting their salaries out in the open, the NCAA could end the illegal and underhanded ways some schools and coaches try to entice athletes to join.

People who argue against the idea of paying college athletes believe the practice could be disastrous for college sports. By paying athletes, they argue, they’d turn college sports into a bidding war, where only the richest schools could afford top athletes, and the majority of schools would be shut out from developing a talented team (though some argue this already happens because the best players often go to the most established college sports programs, who typically pay their coaches millions of dollars per year). It could also ruin the tight camaraderie of many college teams if players become jealous that certain teammates are making more money than they are.

They also argue that paying college athletes actually means only a small fraction would make significant money. Out of the 350 Division I athletic departments, fewer than a dozen earn any money. Nearly all the money the NCAA makes comes from men’s football and basketball, so paying college athletes would make a small group of men--who likely will be signed to pro teams and begin making millions immediately out of college--rich at the expense of other players.

Those against paying college athletes also believe that the athletes are receiving enough benefits already. The top athletes already receive scholarships that are worth tens of thousands per year, they receive free food/housing/textbooks, have access to top medical care if they are injured, receive top coaching, get travel perks and free gear, and can use their time in college as a way to capture the attention of professional recruiters. No other college students receive anywhere near as much from their schools.

People on this side also point out that, while the NCAA brings in a massive amount of money each year, it is still a non-profit organization. How? Because over 95% of those profits are redistributed to its members’ institutions in the form of scholarships, grants, conferences, support for Division II and Division III teams, and educational programs. Taking away a significant part of that revenue would hurt smaller programs that rely on that money to keep running.

While both sides have good points, it’s clear that the negatives of paying college athletes far outweigh the positives. College athletes spend a significant amount of time and energy playing for their school, but they are compensated for it by the scholarships and perks they receive. Adding a salary to that would result in a college athletic system where only a small handful of athletes (those likely to become millionaires in the professional leagues) are paid by a handful of schools who enter bidding wars to recruit them, while the majority of student athletics and college athletic programs suffer or even shut down for lack of money. Continuing to offer the current level of benefits to student athletes makes it possible for as many people to benefit from and enjoy college sports as possible.

This argumentative essay follows the Rogerian model. It discusses each side, first laying out multiple reasons people believe student athletes should be paid, then discussing reasons why the athletes shouldn’t be paid. It ends by stating that college athletes shouldn’t be paid by arguing that paying them would destroy college athletics programs and cause them to have many of the issues professional sports leagues have.

  • Both sides of the argument are well developed, with multiple reasons why people agree with each side. It allows readers to get a full view of the argument and its nuances.
  • Certain statements on both sides are directly rebuffed in order to show where the strengths and weaknesses of each side lie and give a more complete and sophisticated look at the argument.
  • Using the Rogerian model can be tricky because oftentimes you don’t explicitly state your argument until the end of the paper. Here, the thesis doesn’t appear until the first sentence of the final paragraph. That doesn’t give readers a lot of time to be convinced that your argument is the right one, compared to a paper where the thesis is stated in the beginning and then supported throughout the paper. This paper could be strengthened if the final paragraph was expanded to more fully explain why the author supports the view, or if the paper had made it clearer that paying athletes was the weaker argument throughout.


3 Tips for Writing a Good Argumentative Essay

Now that you’ve seen examples of what good argumentative essay samples look like, follow these three tips when crafting your own essay.

#1: Make Your Thesis Crystal Clear

The thesis is the key to your argumentative essay; if it isn’t clear or readers can’t find it easily, your entire essay will be weak as a result. Always make sure that your thesis statement is easy to find. The typical spot for it is the final sentence of the introduction paragraph, but if it doesn’t fit in that spot for your essay, try to at least put it as the first or last sentence of a different paragraph so it stands out more.

Also make sure that your thesis makes clear what side of the argument you’re on. After you’ve written it, it’s a great idea to show your thesis to a couple different people--classmates are great for this. Just by reading your thesis they should be able to understand what point you’ll be trying to make with the rest of your essay.

#2: Show Why the Other Side Is Weak

When writing your essay, you may be tempted to ignore the other side of the argument and just focus on your side, but don’t do this. The best argumentative essays really tear apart the other side to show why readers shouldn’t believe it. Before you begin writing your essay, research what the other side believes, and what their strongest points are. Then, in your essay, be sure to mention each of these and use evidence to explain why they’re incorrect/weak arguments. That’ll make your essay much more effective than if you only focused on your side of the argument.

#3: Use Evidence to Support Your Side

Remember, an essay can’t be an argumentative essay if it doesn’t support its argument with evidence. For every point you make, make sure you have facts to back it up. Some examples are previous studies done on the topic, surveys of large groups of people, data points, etc. There should be lots of numbers in your argumentative essay that support your side of the argument. This will make your essay much stronger compared to only relying on your own opinions to support your argument.

Summary: Argumentative Essay Sample

Argumentative essays are persuasive essays that use facts and evidence to support their side of the argument. Most argumentative essays follow either the Toulmin model or the Rogerian model. By reading good argumentative essay examples, you can learn how to develop your essay and provide enough support to make readers agree with your opinion. When writing your essay, remember to always make your thesis clear, show where the other side is weak, and back up your opinion with data and evidence.

What's Next?

Do you need to write an argumentative essay as well? Check out our guide on the best argumentative essay topics for ideas!

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Your college admissions essay may end up being one of the most important essays you write. Follow our step-by-step guide on writing a personal statement to have an essay that'll impress colleges.

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Christine graduated from Michigan State University with degrees in Environmental Biology and Geography and received her Master's from Duke University. In high school she scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT and was named a National Merit Finalist. She has taught English and biology in several countries.

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President John F. Kennedy delivers his Inaugural Address during ceremonies at the Capitol, 20 January 1961.

Analyzing the Rhetoric of JFK's Inaugural Address

About this resource.

Download this lesson plan , including handouts, in pdf format.

Topics: Persuasive Writing and Speaking; Campaign, Election and Inauguration; Cold War

Grade Level: 9-12

Subject Areas: English Language Arts; US History

Time Required: 1-2 hours


An inaugural address is a speech for a very specific event—being sworn into the office of the presidency.  The speeches of modern presidents share some commonalities in referencing American history, the importance of the occasion, and hope for the future. Each president, however, has faced the particular challenges of his time and put his own distinctive rhetorical stamp on the address.

In the course of writing this address, John F. Kennedy and Theodore Sorensen, his advisor and main speechwriter, asked for and received suggestions from advisors and colleagues. ( See the telegram from Ted Sorensen dated December 23, 1960 here .) In his delivered speech, Kennedy included several sections of text provided by both John Kenneth Galbraith, an economics professor at Harvard University and Adlai Stevenson, former governor of Illinois and Democratic presidential candidate in 1952 and 1956.

In this lesson plan, students consider the rhetorical devices in the address JFK delivered on January 20, 1961. They then analyze the suggestions made by Galbraith and Stevenson and compare them to the delivered version of the speech. Students then evaluate the impact of the changes on the resonance of the speech.

Essential Question:  How can the use of rhetorical devices enhance a speech?

Students will:

  • identify rhetorical terms and methods.
  • examine the rhetorical devices of JFK’s Inaugural Address .
  • analyze the effects of the rhetorical devices on the delivered speech.


Historical Background and Context

On January 20, 1961, a clerk of the US Supreme Court held the large Fitzgerald family Bible as John F. Kennedy took the oath of office to become the nation’s 35th president.  Against a backdrop of deep snow and sunshine, more than twenty thousand people huddled in 20-degree temperatures on the east front of the Capitol to witness the event. Kennedy, having removed his topcoat and projecting both youth and vigor, delivered what has become a landmark inaugural address.

His audience reached far beyond those gathered before him to people around the world. In preparing for this moment, he sought both to inspire the nation and to send a message abroad signaling the challenges of the Cold War and his hope for peace in the nuclear age. He also wanted to be brief. As he’d remarked to his close advisor, Ted Sorensen, “I don’t want people to think I’m a windbag.”

He assigned Sorensen the task of studying other inaugural speeches and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address to glean the secrets of successful addresses. The finely-crafted delivered speech had been revised and reworked numerous times by Kennedy and Sorensen until the President-elect was satisfied. Though not the shortest of inaugural addresses, Kennedy’s was shorter than most at 1,355 words in length and, like Lincoln’s famous speech, was comprised of short phrases and words. In addition to message, word choice and length, he recognized that captivating his audience required a powerful delivery. On the day before and on the morning of Inauguration Day, he kept a copy handy to take advantage of any spare moment to review it, even at the breakfast table.

What many consider to be the most memorable and enduring section of the speech came towards the end when Kennedy called on all Americans to commit themselves to service and sacrifice: “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country. He then continued by addressing his international audience: “My fellow citizens of the world, ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.”

Having won the election by one of the smallest popular vote margins in history, Kennedy had known the great importance of this speech. People who witnessed the speech or heard it broadcast over television and radio lauded the new President. Even elementary school children wrote to him with their reactions to his ideas. Following his inaugural address, nearly seventy-five percent of Americans expressed approval of President Kennedy.

(all included in the  downloadable pdf )

  • Handout:  Poetry and Power:   John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address
  • Reading copy of JFK’s Inaugural Address
  • Handout:  Rhetorical Terms and Techniques of Persuasion
  • Chart:  Excerpts from Inaugural Suggestions and Delivered Speech
  • Have students read  Poetry and Power: John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address  to provide them with background information about the speech.
  • Have students read through the text of  JFK’s inaugural address  as they listen to his speech.
  • Provide students with the  Rhetorical Terms   and Techniques of Persuasion  handout and review the terminology of rhetorical methods.
  • Have students mark up the speech, noting where the specific rhetorical methods occur.
  • “[S]hort speeches, short clauses and short words, wherever possible.” (Sorensen,  Kennedy , 60).
  • “The test of a text was not how it appeared to the eye but how it sounded to the ear” (Sorensen,  Kennedy , 61).
  • “He liked to be exact. But if the situation required a certain vagueness, he would deliberately choose a word of varying interpretations rather than bury his imprecision in ponderous prose.” (Sorensen,  Kennedy , 61).
  • “The intellectual level of his speeches showed erudition but not arrogance.” (Sorensen,  Kennedy , 62).
  • Explain that for many of his key speeches, Kennedy turned to several advisors for their suggestions on content.
  • Provide students with the chart  Excerpts from Inaugural Suggestions and Delivered Speech  that shows excerpts of suggestions for the speech provided by Adlai Stevenson and John Kenneth Galbraith that were included in the delivered speech—and the revisions made to these excerpts for the delivered speech.
  • Discuss with the class the changes made by Sorensen and Kennedy to the original suggested excerpts from Galbraith and Stevenson.
  • Have students write a 2-3 page paper, responding to the question:  “In what ways did the additional rhetorical devices strengthen or weaken the passages in the earlier suggestions? Provide specific examples. What other improvements do you note between the suggestions provided by Galbraith and Stevenson and the delivered version of the speech? How might Kennedy’s preferences in speechwriting have influenced the changes from the suggested language to the delivered version of the speech? 
  • Have students choose 2-3 passages from the speech and provide their own text showing how they might improve upon the delivered passages, keeping in mind the rhetorical techniques they have studied. When they are done, have the class read through the rewritten speech in a “jigsaw,” with students providing their version of the passages in place of Kennedy’s text.

Connections to Curriculum (Standards)

National History Standards -  US History, Era 9: Postwar United States (1945 to early 1970s)

  • Standard 3: Domestic policies after World War II

Common Core State Standards

  • ELA College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening, and Language
  • ELA – Reading Informational Texts, Writing, Speaking and Listening, Language, and Literacy in History/Social Studies for grades 9-10 and 11-12

National Council of Teachers of English : Standards 1, 3, 4, 5, 6

Massachusetts History and Social Science Framework

  • USII.T3  - Defending democracy: responses to fascism and communism

Massachusetts English Language Arts Framework

  • Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening, and Language

Sorensen, Theodore C.  Kennedy.  New York:   Harper & Row, Publishers, 1965.

Tofel, Richard J.  Sounding the Trumpet: The Making of John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address . Chicago: Ivan R. Dee Publisher, 2005.

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Guest Essay

Elite Colleges Walked Into the Israel Divestment Trap

A black and white photograph of a crowd of students, most attired in caps and gowns. Many are holding up their caps, which have  signs reading “Divest now!” pasted on them.

By Gary Sernovitz

Mr. Sernovitz is a managing director of Lime Rock Management, a private equity firm that invests in oil and gas and clean energy companies and whose investors include colleges and universities.

“ Disclose, divest, we will not stop, we will not rest ” is a frequent chant ringing through pro-Palestinian college protests. Of all the actions one could advocate in the war between Israel and Hamas, protesters at Columbia listed, as their first demand, that it divest from companies and institutions that, in their view, “profit from Israeli apartheid.”

Israeli companies aren’t the only target. A proposal Columbia students put forward in December calls for divestment from Microsoft, Airbnb, Amazon and Alphabet, among others. Microsoft is tagged for supplying cloud software services to Israel; Airbnb is targeted for posting rentals in Israeli settlements in the West Bank, listings the platform said it would remove in 2018 . The company reversed this policy months later to settle lawsuits.

Administrators at some universities, including Brown and Northwestern , have agreed to talks with students about divestment as part of agreements to end campus encampments. Other schools have said point blank that they will not accede. The University of Michigan Regents, for one, in March reaffirmed “its longstanding policy to shield the endowment from political pressures and base investment decisions on financial factors such as risk and return.”

“Longstanding” is a debatable term, as it was only three years ago that the regents decided the endowment should stop investing in funds focused on certain fossil fuels (which affected the firm I work at). Before the war in Gaza, it had been pretty easy for universities to make compromises around divestment demands, but those expedient choices are haunting them now. Every investment in elite schools’ endowments is up for debate.

College endowment managers no doubt feel beleaguered that pressing moral questions regularly end up on their desks. For that desk is already covered with spreadsheets on another question: how to generate returns for universities that are nonprofits, unfathomably expensive, and desperate to not be just finishing schools for the rich. Last fiscal year, endowments over $5 billion provided 17.7 percent of their university’s budgets . This school year, Williams College charged $81,200 in tuition and fees . But spending per student was $135,600. The endowment helps make up the difference.

Yet activists view endowments with a sense of ownership. They are part of a community that owns this money. They also go after endowments because they lack better targets. It says something about the authority of ideas in our age that students lobby institutions dedicated to the advancement and propagation of knowledge mainly over what they do with their excess cash.

The mother to all divestment movements was the one that aimed at apartheid in South Africa in the 1970s and ’80s. (In 1981, Barack Obama g ave his first public speech at a divestment rally at Occidental College.) It largely worked: Over 100 colleges in the U.S. eventually agreed to at least partly divest from companies that did business in the country. Years later, many believe divestment played some role in ending apartheid in South Africa.

From 2020 to 2022, as evidence of climate change grew increasingly unavoidable, student demands for divestment from fossil fuels claimed more victories, especially at the Ivy League and other colleges with large endowments — and not coincidentally large groups of activist students telling them what to do with them. Schools’ exposure to oil and gas investments was often less than 5 percent of their endowment, so finding a way to wind down investing, in some form, in the sector was easy to do.

Every divesting institution found its own path, some more logically consistent and sincere than others. I watched some of this unfold firsthand as some schools stopped investing in our oil and gas funds while others invested in our clean energy funds. But almost all the schools succeeded in minimizing real disruption to the endowment and inducing student activists to move on.

Unlike the effects of the South Africa movement, the early impact of oil and gas divestment by colleges and others has been negligible, or even counterproductive: Oil and gas companies have needed little external financial capital , and hostility to the divestment movement has led Republican-led states such as Florida to restrict E.S.G. investing , which focuses on environmental, social and governance factors. (Note that Florida’s State Board of Administration manages almost exactly the same amount of money as the 10 largest private college endowments combined.)

What the fossil fuel divestiture did establish, however, was that university leaders can be made to concede that their endowments will, in certain circumstances, be guided by the school’s collective values, and that current students can shape those values. And by getting endowments to not invest in the sector in some way , the protesters hardened an abstract moral judgment: that the oil and gas business, and the faceless bureaucrats who work for it, are wrong . Divestment champions hope the symbolic removal of an industry’s “social license” can take on its own power, emboldening government policymakers to regulate that industry or dissuading students from seeking jobs in it.

Now the reason for divestment is Israel rather than oil. For many students it’s part of the same conversation , as I saw in a scrawled word salad sign on display at Tulane’s pro-Palestinian encampment: “From the Gulf to the sea, no genocide for oil greed.”

University leaders could follow the same playbook as they did on fossil fuels and find ways to symbolically divest without disrupting their endowments in any notable way. Based on the size of G.D.P., not investing is Israel directly would be like not investing in Colorado. And despite the chants that charge otherwise, many endowments appear to have little to no direct exposure to Israel or to many of the American companies protesters want to blacklist.

But there’s a key difference between avoiding fossil fuels and shunning Israel. The institutions that divested from oil and gas made sure to describe it as financially prudent, albeit sometimes with shallow investment logic. This time, Israel’s social license is the only thing that is on the table. And if Israel is on the table, what other countries should lose their social license? How many years must pass since what some believe to be a country’s settler colonialist period or messy wars that kill innocent civilians to make it investable?

And if divestment against Israel is carried out, when should it end? Oil and gas divesting is meant never to end; oil and gas consumption is meant to end. Divestment from South Africa ended with apartheid. So university leaders will be forced to ask an often heterogeneous group of students what would earn Israel its social license back. A cease-fire? A new Israeli government? A two-state solution? The end of Israel as a Jewish state?

The effort to identify every investment with ties to Israel is also fraught. Columbia activists could find information only on pocket-change-size ownership of certain companies, such as $69,000 of Microsoft stock. So protesters are also demanding that colleges disclose all their investments, presumably so students can research the morality of each one. However, some firms that manage parts of an endowment’s money, particularly hedge funds, don’t report individual holdings to investors: asking them for it is like asking for the secret recipe for Coke.

But even if an endowment could provide a list of every underlying investment, it would likely then be inundated for more calls to divest, for more discovered connections — however small — to Israel, and for reasons related to other offenses discoverable with an online search. Why would there not be a Taiwanese student group demanding divestment from China, to dissuade an invasion? Other students demanding divestment from Big Tech, citing students’ mental health? Others demanding divestment from all of it, the hedge funds and private equity funds whose asset managers are not exactly healing American income inequality?

The answer, of course, is that endowments can’t be in the moral adjudication business — and they should never have headed this way. This does not mean that investing should be a returns-at-any-cost exercise. But it does mean that the real world does not always provide objective answers to how to balance benefits and consequences of companies providing products and services: Carbon emissions are bad, but energy consumption is necessary. Microsoft software for the Israeli government may displease you, but Microsoft saying it won’t sell software to Israel would displease others — and probably get itself banned from working with New York State agencies .

Listen to the protesters on divestment. They will not stop. They will not rest.

But neither will the markets. They open every morning, Monday through Friday, and university budgets’ demands on endowments never go away. Tuitions are rising . Costs always go up . Colleges should debate deep moral issues and discuss the hard compromises to solve the world’s ills. But we should move those efforts to the lecture halls, away from the investment offices. Divesting is an easy chant. Investing is hard enough as it is.

Gary Sernovitz is a managing director of Lime Rock Management, a private equity firm that invests in oil and gas and clean energy companies and whose investors include colleges and universities. He is also the author of “The Counting House,” a novel about the travails of a university chief investment officer.

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips . And here’s our email: [email protected] .

Follow the New York Times Opinion section on Facebook , Instagram , TikTok , WhatsApp , X and Threads .


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