Graduation season is here once again and many of us have enjoyed watching our sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, and friends accept their hard-earned diplomas. Occasionally a university is able to celebrate the accomplishments of their students with a commencement address delivered by the President of the United States. The holdings of the Presidential Libraries include many photographs and other records that commemorate these special events.
So what sort of wisdom does a President pass along to a graduating class as they prepare to enter the next chapter in their lives? When Dwight D. Eisenhower addressed the Pennsylvania State University class of 1955, he focused on the important role education plays in our society: “The peoples of this earth share today a great aspiration. They all have a common dream of lasting peace with freedom and justice. But the realization of the dream calls for many types of cooperation based upon sympathetic and thorough mutual understanding. In turn, such understanding is dependent on education that produces disciplined thinking.”
Richard Nixon’s commencement address to the Air Force Academy on June 4, 1969 focused on upcoming events that would take us well beyond planet Earth: “Our current exploration of space makes the point vividly; here is testimony to man's vision and to man's courage. The journey of the astronauts is more than a technical achievement; it is a reaching out of the human spirit. It lifts our sights; it demonstrates that magnificent conceptions can be made real…when the first man stands on the moon next month every American will stand taller because of what he has done, and we should be proud of this magnificent achievement.”