Franklin D. Roosevelt

Address at the United States Naval Academy Graduation

June 02, 1938

A QUARTER Of a century ago I began coming to Graduation Exercises at the United States Naval Academy. I find it a good custom and I hope to be following it occasionally when I have reached the age of the oldest Admiral on the retired list. As a retired Commander-in-Chief of the Navy I could do nothing else.

The only time I disgraced myself was, I think, during the World War. Because of the strenuous work in the Navy Department, I was a bit in arrears on sleep. On that occasion the temperature in Bancroft Hall was in the neighborhood of a little over a hundred. There I was sitting on the right of the Superintendent of the Naval Academy. The speaker of the occasion began his address. My eyes slowly but firmly closed. I think indeed that my mouth fell open. I slept ungracefully but soundly directly in front of the eyes of the entire graduating class. Could anything be more un-military, more humiliating and, at the same time, more completely satisfactory?

You who are about to become officers of the Navy of the United States have had four years of advice—kindly advice but very firm advice. I do not propose to add to it, except to make one friendly suggestion which is not addressed to you as officers but is intended to apply to you just as much as to this year's graduates in any other college or school in the country.

No matter whether your specialty be naval science, or medicine, or the law, or teaching, or the church, or civil service, or business, or public service- remember that you will never reach the top and stay at the top unless you are well-rounded in your knowledge of all the other factors in modern civilization that lie outside of your own special profession.

That applies to all of world thought and world problems, but it applies, of course, with special emphasis to the thought and the problems of our own Nation.

Let me illustrate by quoting what Theodore Roosevelt once said to me when he was in the White House. A bill for the conservation of natural resources, a nation-wide measure which he had strongly recommended, had been defeated in the Congress by a coalition of votes of members who saw in the bill no special advantage to their own individual Congressional districts. And when he learned of the defeat of this pet measure, he said what almost every President has said, first or last: "I wish we could have a Constitutional Amendment requiring that no person could run for Congress unless he had filed a certificate that he had visited every one of the forty-eight states in the Union."

You who graduate today will fill many important Government posts during many intervals of shore duty. In these posts you will need national knowledge—knowledge of the problems of industry, knowledge of the problems of farming, knowledge of the problems of labor and knowledge of the problems of capital. You will need to know intimately the geography and the natural and human resources of the United States. You will need to know the current operations of federal and state and local governments. You will be called on for decisions in your line of duty where such knowledge will be of at least daily desirability-daily help to you in coming to your own conclusions and carrying out your own assigned tasks.

Preliminary knowledge of that kind you have; but the best of it, the most important part of it, will come to you through the passing years.

It will come to you in two ways. Firstly, by the experiences of your daily life. Those experiences can be profitable to you or not in proportion to your ability to relate each experience to the whole field of experiences. Secondly, you will have the opportunity constantly to widen your knowledge by your own individual efforts. You can confine your field of thought to your professional work or you can widen your field of thought to include a current interest in every current event.

Today you are graduating with the certification by the Government of the United States that you are gentlemen—and the fact that you have been able to graduate at all from the Naval Academy proves that you are scholars. In all of the years to come I want you, and I expect you, to prove that you have another qualification—that you are also thorough-going, up-to-date, intelligent American citizens.

And now we have a very pleasant surprise. A number of years' ago our close neighbor on the north, the Government of our sister nation, Canada, sent back to the United States some flags which had been captured by Canadian and British soldiers in the War of 1812. Shortly after that, the Government of the United States sent back to Canada the mace of the Canadian Parliament which American soldiers and sailors had taken during the War of 1812.

Today I am glad to say that we are honored by the presence of Sir Herbert Marler, the Canadian Minister to the United States. He is with us as another token of the very close bonds that link our two sister nations together.

There is with us today another Canadian, the Mayor of a neighboring city, Saint John, New Brunswick. Mayor MacLaren has had in his family, for many years, a very precious relic, a relic connected with the first and most famous officer of the American Navy, John Paul Jones, whose body lies in the crypt of our Chapel.

Now, I am going to ask Mayor MacLaren, of Saint John, to come forward and do his bit.

(Mayor MacLaren's address follows):

Mr. President:

It is my great privilege and high honor to stand here today in such illustrious company, and complete the mission that has brought me from my home in Saint John, New Brunswick.

The object of that mission is to present to you, Sir, and through you to the great American Nation, the quadrant used by that famed officer of your early life as a nation and as a power upon the waters—Commodore John Paul Jones, the Father of the American Navy.

In making this presentation, I am but performing a filial duty, for the quadrant had rested for many years in the possession of my late father, Mr. J. S. MacLaren, and it had been his wish that it should some day become the property of the American people.

Mr. President, I pay tribute to the gallantry that made John Paul Jones one of your outstanding heroic figures. It is fitting that his mortal remains should rest at this hallowed shrine of the American Navy. It is appropriate also that you should preserve those possessions of his that the years have permitted to remain. To add to those already in your keeping it is my great pleasure to place in your hands the quadrant that so well served its gallant owner.

In closing, Mr. President, may I add a personal word. The people of the City of Saint John, of which I have the honour to be Mayor, and of the Province of New Brunswick, are happy and proud to greet you as one of ourselves on the occasions when you visit your summer residence on Campobello Island. That these occasions may be many more in number is our earnest wish.

(The President continued as follows:)

On behalf of the Government and especially on behalf of all the graduates of the United States Naval Academy, I extend our very deep thanks to my neighbor, Mayor MacLaren, of Saint John, for this token that fits in so well in this historic spot.

And now there will be no more speaking, there will be something more important. Before you actually become Bachelors of Science, let me stress that in the days to come you do not place too much emphasis on the word "Bachelor."

And so, I congratulate you on your graduation. Your Commander-in-Chief is proud of you. Good luck and happy voyage.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Address at the United States Naval Academy Graduation Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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