On June 10, 1963, then-President John F. Kennedy gave the commencement speech at American University. What could have been merely an exciting day in the graduates' lives became one of the most important turning points in the Cold War era.
In the wake of the Cuban Missile Crisis, President Kennedy chose this day to reveal his new approach to the Soviet Union and the United States' nuclear program. He declared that the United States would not continue testing nuclear weapons and would seek to form an agreement with other nations to ban nuclear tests in the atmosphere. This led to the passage of the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (LTBT), and later and more importantly, the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty of 1968. A good way to honor JFK would be to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the updated version, which would ban all types of nuclear testing, including those left out in 1963.
In addition to setting in motion these critical agreements, JFK's speech also accomplished a second important feat: it changed the course of U.S.-Soviet relations for the better. The President boldly and eloquently made an appeal to the humanity of the Soviets. He acknowledged the differences between us, but also drew important comparisons:
"So, let us not be blind to our differences-but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity... Our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future. And we are all mortal."