Caroline Kennedy was in the LA area last week as part of the Distinguished Speakers Series of Southern California. Speaking to full houses in Redondo Beach, Pasadena and Thousand Oaks, she said she was flattered to be part of the series since "everyone knows I'm the least distinguished speaker in my family."
When she speaks it's clear that public appearances are not her favorite thing. She seems shy and a little self-conscious. Yet she obviously feels a responsibility to represent the Kennedy family and especially to honor and continue the legacy of her father.
With the wealth and pedigree to do whatever she wants, she has devoted her life to her family and public service. President of the Kennedy Library Foundation, she is also an adviser to the Harvard Institute of Politics, a living memorial to JFK. She belongs to the boards of directors of the Commission on Presidential Debates and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. She has represented her family at the funerals of former presidents and the dedication of the Bill Clinton Presidential Center and Park.
In 1989 she created the Profile in Courage Award in the spirit of her father's book, "Profiles in Courage." The award recognizes public figures who have acted courageously. Ms. Kennedy said she has been deeply inspired by the people she has met through the award program. "Courage is indispensable," she told the LA crowds, "but too rare in politics."
An attorney and author, she also has helped to raise more than $65 million for the public schools of New York City. From 2002 through 2004, she was director of the Office of Strategic Partnerships for the New York City Department of Education at a salary of $1 a year.
"Schools need the support of the entire community," said the mother of three. "The schools can't do it alone. How we raise our children is a moral issue."
She called for a national commitment to "raise our standards. We must make school relevant to kids' lives and hold politicians accountable. We must show children that we believe in them and are here to help them succeed. It's up to us to give kids skills and a sense of hope. We all need to feel that we matter, whether we're 5, 15 or 50."
Speaking in Pasadena, on the evening of Ash Wednesday, she wore a faint smudge on her forehead. "These are the most indelible ashes I've ever gotten," she said with a smile. "This is my first time to get ashes in California and I can't believe you just drive by, hop out, get the ashes and get back in the car."
When asked about her Catholic faith, she said, "It has given me strength and support, but certainly there are things that are difficult, upsetting and sad about the church today."
On a lighter note, she said she had spent the afternoon with her cousin Maria Shriver. "We think either of us would make a good Pope."