Address at the College William and Mary upon Receiving an Honorary Degree
Mr. President, Governor Perry, my fellow students of William and Mary, my friends:
I value far beyond the sentiment conveyed by my mere acknowledgment in words the honor that you, in behalf of this historic institution, have conferred upon me today.
I well know the great tradition that the College of William and Mary has carried through the centuries. You have taught, you have inspired and you have honored the great and devoted men who were responsible in such large part for the shaping of the cause of American liberty.
President Bryan, on this occasion of your inauguration as President of this institution, I congratulate you on the opportunity for service that lies before you. In my official capacity, I can bring to you the greetings of the Nation and I think I can take it upon myself, as a son of Harvard, to extend her greetings to the oldest of a long line of distinguished sisters.
The first time I came to Williamsburg was more than twenty years ago. I shall always remember my arrival. I landed at Jamestown from a boat and started to walk to Williamsburg. Fortunately I was picked up by an old Negro in a horse and buggy and driven here over what was at that time an almost impassable road. In those days there was no capitol building, there was no palace of the Royal Governors, there was no Raleigh Tavern. Instead modern buildings had crept into this historic place, almost to the extent of crowding out the fine old colonial structures which were still standing.
What a thrill it has been to me to return today and to have the honor of formally opening the Duke of Gloucester Street, which rightly can be called the most historic avenue in America; what a joy it has been to come back and see the transformation which has taken place, to see the capitol, the Governor's palace, all the other buildings which have arisen even since I was here two and a half years ago, to see sixty-one colonial buildings restored, ninety-four colonial buildings rebuilt, the magnificent gardens of colonial days reconstructed—in short, to see how through the renaissance of these physical landmarks the atmosphere of a whole glorious chapter in our history has been recaptured. Something of this spiritual relationship between the past, the present and the future was well described by the first man who sought to colonize America, Sir Walter Raleigh. He said:
"It is not the least debt that we owe unto history that it hath made us acquainted with our dead ancestors; and out of the depth and darkness of the earth delivered us their memory and fame."
I am happy to say that the Federal Government, inspired by the fine vision and example of Mr. Rockefeller in recreating Williamsburg, has effectively taken up the preservation of other historic shrines near by. Six miles to the west of us, we have acquired Jamestown Island and we are now carrying on the necessary archaeological and research work to determine what should be done in the preservation of that hallowed spot. Fourteen miles to the east of us at Yorktown the National Park Service has acquired many thousand acres of land, and is actively carrying out the restoration of the symbol of the final victory of the war for American independence. When the work in these three places is completed, we shall have saved for future generations the Nation's birthplace at Jamestown, the cradle of liberty at Williamsburg, and the sealing of our independence at Yorktown.
Nearly two centuries ago it was to William and Mary College that Thomas Jefferson came in 1760. Here he studied for two years, remaining five years longer in Williamsburg to pursue the study of law. It was here in Williamsburg that he was admitted to the bar. It was to Williamsburg that he returned, first as a member of the House of Burgesses, then as Governor of Virginia, following Patrick Henry. He lived in the Governor's palace during his term and later served on the Board of Visitors of the college. It was largely the result of his recommendations, I am told, that the curriculum of the college was broadened to provide education in law, medicine, modern languages, mathematics and philosophy. No doubt inspired by his reflections on government, human liberty and the necessity of education, Jefferson throughout his life was' interested in designing a system of education for his State and for the Nation. I like to think of him, not only as a statesman, but as the enlightened father of American education.
And, strange as it may seem, I believe it is entirely fitting that a statesman should have also been an educator. As education grows it becomes, of necessity, a partner of government.
When Jefferson wrote his "Notes on Virginia," he discussed the education then prevailing at William and Mary, pointing out the essentially liberal education that this college was giving to its students. He observed that in order to provide a more advanced type of education, the subjects of the six professorships had been changed after the Revolutionary War. It is a matter of very great importance to all of us that one of the six was the professorship of law and of what is now called political science. The teaching of law and of the science of government thus established as an academic discipline in this institution was made significant by the intellectual leadership of George Wythe, who was appraised by Jefferson as "one of the greatest men of his age." The study of this subject, because essentially it touches every human impulse, every human problem, becomes one of the greatest means for the broad education of men who enter every walk of life. It can become the touchstone of universal culture.
Law in itself is not enough. Man must build himself more broadly. The purpose of education, shown by these various subjects of instruction indicated by the builders of William and Mary, was not to train specialists, but to educate men broadly. They were attempting to train not merely doctors, lawyers and business men, but broad-gauged citizens of the Nation and of the world. They were, in short, training men for citizenship in our great Republic.
This was in the spirit of the Old America, and it is, I believe, in the spirit of America today. The necessities of our time demand that men avoid being set in grooves, that they avoid the occupational pre-destination of the older world, and that in the face of the change and development in America, they must have a sufficiently broad and comprehensive conception of the world in which they live to meet its changing problems with resource. fulness and practical vision.
There is in the spirit of a liberal education something of the self-confidence and the adaptability that is characteristic of our country. The pioneer does not call his life a failure if he comes to the end of one path. He knows that there are others, and with a sense of direction and a will to persevere, his life can go on with confidence into the uncertainties of the future.
All of us must honor and encourage those young men and young women whose ambitions lead them to seek specialization in science and in scholarship. Our great universities are properly providing adequate facilities for the development of specialists in science and in scholarship. The Nation is using their services in every form of human activity. Private business employs them. Private enterprise and government will continue to do so.
But at the same time there is a definite place in American life —an important place—for broad, liberal and non-specialized education. Every form of cooperative human endeavor cries out for men and women who, in their thinking processes, will know something of the broader aspects of any given problem. Government is using many men and women of this type- people who have the non-specialized point of view and who at the same time have a general and extraordinarily comprehensive knowledge not of the details, but of the progress and the purposes which under-' lie the work of the specialists themselves.
The noble list of those who have gone out into life from the halls of William and Mary is in greater part distinguished because these graduates came to know and to understand the needs of their Nation as a whole. They thought and acted, not in terms of specialization, not in terms of a locality, but rather in the broad sense of national needs. In the olden days those needs were confined to a narrow seaboard strip. Later the needs gradually extended to the Blue Ridge and across through the mountains to the fair lands of Tennessee and Kentucky. Later still they spread throughout the great Middle West and across the plains and the Rockies to the Pacific Ocean.
It is in the realization of these needs in their national scope of today that the present and future generations of William and Mary can best carry forward the fine traditions of their centuries.
So I would extend my heartiest good wishes to the College of William and Mary, built early in the morning of American life, dedicated to the education of the makers of a great Republic, seeking to enrich and broaden the meaning of education, and seeking, above all things, to recognize that republican institutions are, in the last analysis, the application to human affairs of those broad human ideals that a liberal education preserves, enriches and expands in our beloved land.
Franklin D. Roosevelt, Address at the College William and Mary upon Receiving an Honorary Degree Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/208188