NPR has reminded us that Penn State used to have really good commencement speakers, ranking President Dwight Eisenhower’s 1955 address as one of the nation’s best ever.
The nation’s 34th president spoke here on June 11, 1955, during his first term, becoming an honorary member of the Class of 1955.
He accepted an invitation to do so from his brother, Milton Eisenhower, who was Penn State’s 11th president from 1950-56. According to the archives, President Eisenhower spoke at the site of Beaver Field (where the Nittany Lion Inn now sits), to a graduating class of 1,847(!) students during inclement weather.
Just two years earlier, the university had changed its name from The Pennsylvania State College to The Pennsylvania State University, and “the visit was a boost to Penn State’s new-found status,” the archives say.
NPR's list of top commencement speakers has more than 300 entries, placing Eisenhower’s speech alongside the best addresses delivered by other presidents, celebrities, athletes, journalists and more. His address focused on the peaceful adoption of nuclear energy. Some excerpts:
“Of course, you men and women venture forth into a world where human nature differs little, if at all, from human nature in 1915 or in the Age of Pericles. Human relations–the art of getting along with the people who work beside you and with those who live thousands of miles away–does not change in its essence with the centuries. But the age of nuclear energy, in its industrial and economic aspects, will likely bear no more resemblance to the age of steam than a jet-powered plane to an old-fashioned box kite.”
“Nuclear energy is too new for any man to chart its limits or predict its course with accuracy. But in ten short years the curtain has been pushed aside sufficiently to afford glimpses that have aroused atomic hopes commensurate with the awful dimension of atomic fears.”
“If we are to have partners for peace, then we must first be partners in sympathetic recognition that all mankind possesses in common like aspirations and hungers, like ideals and appetites, like purposes and frailties, a like demand for economic advancement. The divisions between us are artificial and transient. Our common humanity is God-made and enduring.”
Eisenhower is regarded as one of the best speakers to ever run the oval office — he was the first to use his farewell address to actually send a message instead of niceties. You can read his entire commencement address here.