ARLINGTON, Va. — On the 50th anniversary of the death of Robert F. Kennedy, hundreds — including former president Bill Clinton, Kennedy family members and members of Congress — gathered to commemorate the remarkable life of the junior U.S. senator from New York.
Arlington National Cemetery served as the backdrop for Wednesday's memorial service to remember RFK, the younger brother of President of John F. Kennedy and once presidential hopeful who was assassinated in a Los Angeles hotel on June 6, 1968.
The ceremony included speakers reading RFK's own words and a performance from country star Kenny Chesney.
“The timeless wisdom of Robert Kennedy’s words," Clinton said, who also spoke at a memorial for RFK 25 years ago. "I think if he were here today, he would remind us that perhaps the words he spoke then are truer today than they were then.”
The 42nd president talked about the "deepening division of America in 1968, a time of hope, heartbreak and division” during his last semester of college, in a country plagued by the death of Martin Luther King. Jr., divided over civil rights.
He continued: "So I ask you as he would, if he were 92 standing here, he would be saying you can do better, we can and we must. His legacy has brought us here and will see us forward."
Clinton later tweeted about the event.
Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, RFK's eldest daughter, thanked Clinton for speaking at the event.
“It is tough to lose a parent, it was very painful to lose my father,” said Townsend, who previously served as the lieutenant governor of Maryland. “And yet a half of century later, each of you have come here, some having travelled far…you share our deep sense of loss and happy memories.”
Recalling growing up in the room next to her father, Townsend said the late Kennedy listened to Shakespeare every morning while doing pushups.
“I woke to grunts and Shakespeare,” she said. “One of his favorite plays was Henry the V.”
Nearly 20 speakers paid tribute to RFK by reading several of his famous words aloud.
Rep. John Lewis quoted RFK from his address about the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in Indianapolis on April 4, 1968, given months before his own death.
"In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God,” the Georgia Democrat read. “What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness; but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or they be black.”
Emma Gonzales, the Parkland shooting survivor and student activist, read from the Ripple of Hope Speech he gave in South Africa in 1966: "Some believe there is nothing one man or one woman can do against the enormous array of the world's ills. Yet many of the world's great movements, of thought and action, have flowed from the work of a single man.”
Rep. Joe Kennedy III, born 12 years after his grandfather's death, also paid homage to RFK.
“Countless words have been used to remember my grandfather, but it’s the images who tell his story better” the Massachusetts Democrat said. “Images of a father, son, brother, husband, a family home adorned to this day of photos of us, graduations, weddings, silly moments, grandkids, great grandkids, his love ever enduring of his extraordinary wife and partner, who 50 years after his passing, still wears her wedding ring.”