Issues Week: A Tradition Lost to Time


1967 Kennedy Yearbook

John F. Kennedy tours the high school names after him.

The year is 1967. Kennedy, home of the Cougars, has just opened its doors and all students have been given a week off. While school was canceled, a majority of the student body came in anyway, signing up to watch a few of the many presenters coming to Kennedy each day. These speakers ranged from judges working in a court of law to the entire Iowa Hawkeyes Football Team to John F. Kennedy’s cousin. Thus began Issues Week.

For one week every year from the school opening until the 1980s, Kennedy students were let off of school. During this week, the student government invited speakers to come and give presentations, demonstrations or organize activities. Students would sign up for different speakers during different time slots.

“It was really anything that somebody could come up with to talk about or do with students,” Randy Krejci, 1972 Kennedy graduate said. “Sometimes there would be games out on the football field. They’d have a session or two playing things like that bag game, cornhole. A coach of some sort might bring prizes and you’d compete.”

There was a wide range of speakers that would come, drawing a wide variety of students back to school during their time off. Within classrooms, one could find trade professionals such as plumbers or electricians giving demonstrations or a business owner giving a lecture on marketing. Popular speakers that drew more of a crowd often held their presentations in the auditorium or gymnasium.

“I can still remember when Ralph Miller came in to talk to us back when I was a student,” Krejci said. Ralph Miller was a famous basketball coach who had success at three different universities, repeatedly leading his teams to victory. He has since been inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. “His presentation was held in the auditorium. You had to sign up pretty quickly or else the spots would be gone. He would sometimes have a few sessions but people would just flock to that.”

John F. Kennedy speaks at the first annual “Issues Week.” (1967 Kennedy Yearbook)

Issues Week didn’t just draw local influences. Edward “Ted” Kennedy, brother to the school’s namesake, visited to discuss his experiences, is not only related to former President Kennedy who had just been assassinated but also his own involvement with the government.

“When Kennedy’s [brother] came to talk, it was just crazy,” Krejci said. “We were in the gym during my junior year, 1970. Lots of people showed up … so it was a really big deal to all of us.”

The goal of Issues Week was to give students insight into what their futures could look like. Educating the student body on what was possible and allowing them to explore career paths within their own interest helped high schoolers gain perspective and understand what their options were.

Despite the apparent benefits, Issues Week was eventually downgraded to only three days as getting so many different speakers to attend proved to be more difficult as time went on. Then, in the 1980s, the immense pressure of putting together the event became too much, and Issues Week was permanently called off.

“It was just too hard to organize everything,” said Krejci. “I never had anything to do with it but a lot of teachers put in tons of work and so did student government. There was a lot of coordinating with time slots and it just wasn’t worth organizing when only about 30 kids would show up for the smaller presenters. It’s just sad because it was so much fun for all of us.”