Open For Debate
When Edward Kennedy passed away after a 47-year tenure in the United States Senate, he left an impressive legacy of legislative achievement. In addition to championing issues such as voting rights and education, Kennedy was a strong advocate for civil engagement. Now, nearly six years after his death, his desire to inspire a new generation of American leaders comes full circle with the March 31 opening of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate.
Located next to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Dorchester, the 68,000-square-foot institute, designed by acclaimed architect Rafael Viñoly, aims to educate the public on the workings of government and the importance of bipartisanship through a series of what interim president Jean MacCormack calls “high-touch and high-tech” exhibits and programs.
The centerpiece of the new facility is a full-scale replica of the U.S. Senate chamber where visitors, outfitted with handheld tablets, can play senators for the day as they attend hearings, debate issues, and vote on pending legislation. Guests will also be able to explore a replica of the late senator’s office and add their vows of community service to the Pledge Wall.
By immersing people in a simulated governing experience and providing insight into the legislative process, MacCormack says she thinks the institute will combat some of the cynicism that many Americans, particularly college students, have toward government. “Now more than ever, people really want to see how we can make [government] work,” MacCormack says. “People believe in democracy, and I think they want to see a reason to reconnect.”
Though the facility isn’t officially open to the public until the end of the month, student groups, teachers, and legislators have already gotten a sneak preview. MacCormack says so far the response to the institute’s programming has been positive and even, at times, emotional: “A lot of former senators have come to visit, and many are moved to tears to think that this could be done.”
Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate, Columbia Point, Boston, 617-740-7000, emkinstitute.org.