Will he or won't he? The excitement was palpable on campus in late September 1963. President John F. Kennedy was set to visit Las Vegas in late September 1963, and the Rebel Yell was awash in speculation about a possible presidential visit to the Nevada Southern, as UNLV was then called.
The popular young president had been sent a letter of invitation by student government officers. Despite the short duration of his visit, there was always the hope they he might make a quick stop on campus. He had, of course, visited Las Vegas before on a few occasions as a U.S. senator, and then more notably when he was running for the Democratic presidential nomination in February 1960.
In the end, President Kennedy's speech at the Las Vegas Convention Center was as close as he would get to the campus during his one-hour visit to Las Vegas on Saturday, Sept. 28. A number of Nevada Southern students in the audience made sure he still had a warm Rebel greeting by displaying a giant banner welcoming the 35th president to Las Vegas.
The Rebel Yell, reporting on his visit later, called it a "monumental occasion" as Kennedy was the first sitting president since Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1935 to visit the city. A photo taken on the day shows a group of students enthusiastically arranging the banner in anticipation of the speech.
In less than two months, campus excitement for Kennedy's visit to Las Vegas turned to unimaginable sadness when the news of his assassination reached the student body. His tragic death inspired moving editorials and letters in the student newspaper. Their thoughts resonate even today, 50 years after the assassination.
Myrna Selwyn, co-editor of the Rebel Yell, spoke for many when she described the previous Friday as a day on which "a black cloud" descended upon America. In her glowing tribute to Kennedy, Selwyn noted that it was "hard to imagine that a personality which was such a vital part of this nation is no more."
In a section of the Rebel Yell titled "University Views of JFK's Death," University of Nevada president, Dr. Charles Armstrong, wrote movingly of the sad event and its aftermath, and of Kennedy's deep interest in young people and their future. Writing of "the fundamental, the enduring concerns of the human race with which our young President...was deeply dedicated," he pledged "ours must be the responsibility to see that these concerns be not forgotten."
Student Elliott Bold, expressed the outrage of many when he asked "Where is respect for authority and organized life when members of societies kill their own president?"
In a final commentary titled "What is Your Answer?" student Sherry McDaniel asked, "Have we learned a lesson from the tragic event of the past?"
About Special Collections
Special Collections at Lied Library documents the history of Southern Nevada -- its people, places, and events. Its University Archive includes issues of The Rebel Yell. Do you have photographs or other materials from your time as a student, staff member or faculty at UNLV? Contact Special Collections to help document the rich history of the campus.