It Happened at Michigan — ‘I’m just like everybody else’


The assassination of President John F. Kennedy had a ripple effect on the U-M campus.

The campus community mourned together at a Hill Auditorium service days after Kennedy’s death on Nov. 22, 1963. Three years earlier, as a presidential candidate, Kennedy had shared his vision for the Peace Corps in an impromptu speech from the steps of the Michigan Union — a concept students enthusiastically embraced.

In May 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson spoke at commencement in Michigan Stadium and unveiled his Great Society platform. U-M leaders had invited Kennedy in October 1963 and shifted the invitation to Johnson after the assassination.

A photo of Marina Oswald on her first day of classes in 1965.
Marina Oswald on her first day of classes in 1965. (Ann Arbor District Library)

And in 1965, the widow of JFK assassin Lee Harvey Oswald enrolled as a Michigan student.

Marina Oswald was left widowed when Jack Ruby, a Dallas nightclub owner, shot and killed her husband as police were moving him to a new jail cell. She was 22, with a 21-month-old toddler and a newborn. She had moved to the United States from her native Soviet Union earlier in the year.

Just as people sympathized with Jacqueline Kennedy and her two children, others empathized with Oswald and her plight as a single mother. In Ann Arbor, members of the First Presbyterian Church reached out to Oswald and offered to host her so she could attend U-M and study English. After her husband’s death, Oswald — who lived in Dallas — had indicated she hoped to stay in the United States and expand her command of English.

A photo of Marina Oswald with a man.
Marina Oswald with English Language Institute Director John Catford after receiving her certificate on Feb. 26, 1965. (Bentley Historical Library)

She arrived on campus Jan. 5, 1965, for classes at the English Language Institute. Her enrollment drew a gaggle of news reporters. “Please tell a good story,” she said. “I’m just like everybody else, and I’ve had more than enough.”

ELI Director John Catford said instructors would treat Oswald like any U-M student. “I’m sure Mrs. Oswald could conquer English in any school in America. The reason she is here is that we can teach her more in a shorter period of time,” he said.

Oswald studied alongside some 30 international students in an eight-week course. At the end of February, ELI leaders presented her with an engraved certificate of completion during a ceremony in Rackham Assembly Hall. She left town on Feb. 28, an alumna of U-M.


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