The youngest person to become president of the United States was Teddy Roosevelt, who was a 42-year-old Vice-President when William McKinley was assassinated. But the youngest person elected President was John F. Kennedy, at age 43. That’s so odd to me, because that’s the age I am right now. Am I old enough to be “the leader of the free world”? Am I old enough to assume the highest office in our nation?
I’ve often wondered about Kennedy — he is remembered with such fondness, devotion even. He seems almost universally beloved by people of a certain generation, and is generally remembered as a great president, or at least a good one who had potential to be great, had he not been killed. But I’ve often wondered: how much of that is precisely because he was killed so young? At age 46, Kennedy was also the youngest president to die. He could have had five more years as president. What might he have done? Who knows? I’m the kind of person who tends to nail the audition, and then to disappoint when my follow-through doesn’t match my potential. Might Kennedy have been like that? Would the Vietnam War have gone differently had he served until 1968? Would it have been better or worse? Would Nixon still have been elected in 1968, or would that have gone differently? And without Nixon, would the public have lost so much faith in government? And Kennedy could have had decades more as an ex-president. Would he have become an elder statesman, an unofficial ambassador? Would he have leveraged his fame into a career of volunteering and hope, as President Carter has done? (Quick tangent: whatever you think of his time in office, Jimmy Carter is without any doubt the finest ex-President this country has ever seen.) Or would Kennedy just have faded away, or become one more partisan blowhard? Who can tell?
But back to 43. What else have people accomplished by the time they were my age? In addition to Kennedy’s election:
- Marie Curie was awarded her second Nobel Prize at age 43. Sheesh. I’ve only got the one.
- Albert Einstein was too busy traveling to the Far East at age 43 to accept in person the Nobel Prize he’d won. Well, I’m going to Florida later this year.
- Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem Kubla Khan was published when he was 43. Well, I would be very grateful to follow in his footsteps. Not that I’m decreeing any stately pleasure-domes, but I do have a story to be published, if only a publisher would agree with me!
- Samuel L. Jackson’s first major movie role was in Jungle Fever when he was 43.
- When he was 43, Julius Caesar fought (and won) the Battle of the Sabis. Yeah, I never heard of it either. But he was 43. I never won any battles.
- According to a study commissioned in 2013 by Nickelodeon UK, the average man doesn’t mature until age 43. This will be good news to my wife! (Women apparently mature at 32.)
- According to 2015 research at Harvard and the Boston Attention and Learning Laboratory, one’s ability to focus peaks at age 43. Tell that to my video games.
Meh. 43‘s rather a dull year, I suppose. I haven’t been able to find much else in my most expert Googling. Bunch of Nobel Prizes, a book of poetry, a film career, and a battle. I suppose people are getting themselves noticed at this age. Maybe my newfound ability to focus maturely will help me do just that!