Presidential Commencement Addresses

By
John Woolley

President Trump addressed one commencement ceremony in 2018—at the Naval Academy.  The speech marked the 15th time a president spoke at the Naval Academy--the all-time leading destination for Presidents giving commencement addresses.

Starting with Truman, every president has made at least one commencement address in the second year after winning election.  George H. W. Bush set the record with 5 in 1980.  Obama was runner-up with 4 in 2010. 

While some commencement addresses have involved an extended articulation of important new policy position (see below) but that is relatively rare.  While it is not uncommon for Presidents to state their position on prominent contemporary issues, almost always, they provide an opportunity for Presidents to extoll shared American values and international commitments. 

 

Top Presidential Commencement Destinations

Count

United States Naval Academy

15

United States Military Academy

12

United States Coast Guard Academy

10

United States Air Force Academy

9

Capitol Page School

6

University of Notre Dame

6

Howard University

4

University of Michigan

3

The speeches are more obviously undertaken with an eye to the audience—30% have been to military academies; 7% have been to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (4 times at Howard); and 13% have been at institutions with religious affiliations (6 times at Notre Dame).  One interesting historical note is that presidents have spoken more often at high school graduations than at HBCU ceremonies—19 vs 11.  Another interesting note:  Presidents have rarely given commencement addresses at the Ivys—none at Harvard, and once each at Yale and Princeton..