The Lion of the Senate’s tribute to the body that he loved finally became a reality today with the dedication and opening of the Edward M Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate in Dorchester. In a ceremony replete with pageantry, its attendees reflected the cooperation embodied by the late senator, as officials from all forms of government and bodies converged on Columbia Point, the former landfill where Kennedy’s widow, Victoria Kennedy, said her husband hoped to create an “institute with full-scale recreation of the senate chamber.” The large white building standing behind her “stands exactly where Teddy dreamed it would.”
Nearly 1,800 attendees were bussed out to the tip of Columbia Point on Monday morning, where the EMK institute stands next to the JFK Presidential Library, the Massachusetts Archives, and UMass Boston. The elected officials in attendance, including President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. John McCain, Gov. Charlie Baker, Mayor Martin Walsh, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, were nearly too many to count, not to mention the nearly thousands of former staffers for Kennedy in his 47 years in the Senate–and Kennedy’s relatives.
President Obama was the final speaker of the two-hour plus program and delivered a 28 minute address that saluted the late senator, his family and his accomplishments.
"I did not know Ted as long as some of the speakers here today," said the president. "But he was my friend. I owe him a lot. And as far as I could tell, it was never ideology that compelled him, except insofar as his ideology said, you should help people; that you should have a life of purpose; that you should be empathetic and be able to put yourself in somebody else’s shoes, and see through their eyes."
Jean MacCormack, president of the institute, recalled her childhood growing up in Dorchester, when children would play in the landfill.
“When I was growing up, this area was a forbidden place,” said MacCormack, a Downer Avenue native who went on to become the chancellor of UMass Dartmouth. “Who knew that the place where we played as children would become home to world class university, a presidential library, the state archives, and the newest jewel in that crown, the glittering institute behind me.”
“That same sort of transformation is what the institute is about,” she said. “We’re going to light a fire in each and every person who walks through these doors and I for one can’t wait to get started.”
Speakers lauded Kennedy as the lion of the Senate and the person most committed to cooperation and encouraging greater participation in government.
“Senator Kennedy was one of the most effective leaders in American history. Not because he brought federal resources home,” said Mayor Walsh, referring to the Geiger-Gibson Health Center on Columbia Point for which Kennedy won federal funding in the 1960s. “But because he brought our homes, our neighborhoods, and our voices to Washington.”
As the institute and luminaries glittered, attendees to the ceremonies shivered as they were seated under the large, heated but open tents erected in front of the institute’s front entrance. Following the ceremonies, elected officials, including a litany of senators, joined students from every state to christen the replica Senate chamber with Vice President Joe Biden.
President Barack Obama also made a surprise appearance to the Senate chamber before Biden arrived, commending the young people for their involvement and the chamber itself.
“I have to say, this is remarkable,” he told the young people and elected officials who both surged up to greet him at the front of the chamber.
“This is the colossus of the constitution and I hope you got the same feeling that I got when you walked in here,” Biden told those gathered on the chamber floor and the gallery. “Its intimacy is real.”
The EMK Institute opens to the public on Tuesday. Admission to the museum will cost $14 for Massachusetts residents between 25 and 61, and $12 for the state’s seniors, students, and veterans. Admission will be free to Massachusetts children between 6 and 17. Regular admission for out-of-state residents will be $16.
For more information, visit emkinstitute.org