Harry S. Truman photo

Address at Fordham University, New York City, Upon Receiving an Honorary Degree

May 11, 1946

Your Eminences, President Gannon, fellow alumni and friends:

It is very gratifying to be here at Fordham University in New York on the One Hundredth Anniversary of the granting of the Charter to this great institution of higher learning. I am very grateful for this degree of Doctor of Laws from Fordham. I am happy to become a fellow alumnus of the men who have gone out from Fordham and who are making such a substantial contribution to the Government and to their communities.

One of my able Secretaries is a graduate of this great institution, Mr. Matthew Connelly.

I should like in these few minutes to talk especially of the veterans who have enrolled in this University. For I think that there is great significance in the very fact of their being here--and of the veterans being in thousands of other universities, colleges, and schools throughout the land.

This Nation has a comprehensive program to return its veterans to civil life. That program is being carried out. The Federal Government, with the wholehearted cooperation of the various States, has provided many things for veterans--medical care, rehabilitation, loans for homes and farms and businesses; it is providing life insurance and soon it will provide adequate housing. All these benefits are given not as a matter of favor but as a matter of right. Veterans must not be penalized for their war service.

Programs of this nature, though less comprehensive, were established for veterans of past wars. But today we find the beginning of a new and important concept--one which is given concrete evidence by the presence of veterans here today. That concept is that the Nation must provide for its veterans something more than pensions, something more than insurance, loans, and rehabilitation. For those who wish it, the Nation must also provide education.

An enormous and tragic deficit was accumulated during the war--a deficit in education-as millions of young men and women left behind them their books and their schools and colleges to go to war. Not only gratitude, but national self-preservation as well, require that this educational deficit be diminished or wiped out. By providing educational benefits for our veterans, the Congress has started us on the way to our goal.

Some doubt was expressed a few years ago as to whether there would be any interest among the veterans in these educational aids. There were those--I call them skeptics or men without faith in the youth of our Nation-who thought that only a handful of veterans would choose to come back to the quiet halls of learning. These men were wrong. The problem is not in the lack of veterans seeking education. The problem is to provide accommodations for those who seek it. Even some colleges which had been exclusively for women have had to open their doors to men students. The response of the colleges and schools to this thirst for knowledge of our veterans has been magnificent.

This desire for further schooling which has been evidenced by our veterans--men and women who will be our leaders of tomorrow--is full of healthy promise for the future.

And may God give us those leaders, so that we may continue to assume that leadership which God has always intended us to take in this world.

The fact that so many veterans have taken advantage of these educational opportunities increases the heavy responsibility which rests upon our schools and colleges. In preparing our veterans and other young men and women to live in the new atomic age, education faces the greatest challenge in history.

There is profound truth in the first line of the new charter of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. The Charter declares: "Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed."

I fear we are too much concerned with material things to remember that our real strength lies in spiritual values. I doubt whether there is in this troubled world today, when nations are divided by jealousy and suspicion, a single problem that could not be solved if approached in the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount.

The new age of atomic energy presses upon us. Mark that well! What may have been sufficient yesterday is not sufficient today. New and terrible urgencies, new and terrible responsibilities, have been placed upon education.

Ignorance and its handmaidens, prejudice, intolerance, suspicion of our fellow men, breed dictators. And they breed wars. Civilization cannot survive an atomic war. Nothing would be left but a world reduced to rubble. Gone would be man's hope for decency. Gone would be our hope for the greatest age in the history of mankind--an age which I know can harness atomic energy for the welfare of man and not for his destruction.

And so we must look to education in the long run to wipe out that ignorance which threatens catastrophe. Intelligent men do not hate other men just because their religion may be different, or because their habits and language may be different, or because their national origin or color may be different. It is up to education to bring about that deeper international understanding which is so vital to world peace.

Intelligent Americans no longer think that merely because a man is born outside the boundaries of the United States, he is no concern of ours. They know that in such thinking lie the seeds of dictatorship and tyranny. And they know from sad experience that dictatorship and tyranny are too ruthless to stop at the borders of the United States and conveniently leave us alone. They know what World War II and the atomic bomb have taught them--that we must work and live with all our fellow men if we are to work and live at all. They know that those without economic hope, those to whom education has been forcibly denied, willingly turn to dictators. They know that in a nation where teachers are free to teach, and young men and women are free to learn, there is a strong bulwark against dictatorship.

That was the last message from President Roosevelt. In a speech which he wrote just before he died, but which he never delivered, he said:

"We are faced with the preeminent fact that, if civilization is to survive, we must cultivate the science of human relationships--the ability of all peoples, of all kinds, to live and work together, in the same world, at peace."

Until citizens of America, and citizens of the other nations of the world learn this "science of human relationships" of which President Roosevelt spoke, the atomic bomb will remain a frightful weapon which threat. ens to destroy all of us.

But there is at least one defense against that bomb. That defense lies in our mastering this science of human relationships all over the world. It is the defense of tolerance and of understanding, of intelligence and thoughtfulness.

When we have learned these things, we shall be able to prove that Hiroshima was not the end of civilization, but the beginning of a new and better world.

That is the task which confronts education. The veterans who attend the colleges and schools of today, and the children of the veterans who will go to school tomorrow, have a right to expect that the training offered to them will fulfill that task. It is not an easy task. It is a most difficult one. It is one which places burdens without precedent, both upon those who teach and upon those who come to be taught. There must be new inspiration, new meaning, new energies. There must be a rebirth of education if this new and urgent task is to be met.

I know that education will meet that challenge. If our civilization is to survive, it must meet it. All of our educational resources must be pledged to that end. The road is hard, but the reward is great.

I am confident that this splendid institution, with its educational system rounded upon Christian principles, will play a full and noble part in the great adventure ahead of us. We can and we must make the atomic age an age of peace for the glory of God and the welfare of mankind.

Note: The President spoke at 5 p.m. from the terrace of Keating Hall at Fordham University, after receiving an honorary degree of Doctor of Laws. His opening words "Your Eminences, President Gannon" referred to His Eminence Bernard Cardinal Griffin, Archbishop of Westminster; His Eminence Francis Cardinal Spellman, Archbishop of New York; and the Reverend Dr. Robert Ignatius Gannon, President of the University.

The address was carried on a nationwide radio broadcast.

Harry S Truman, Address at Fordham University, New York City, Upon Receiving an Honorary Degree Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/231537

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