Dwight D. Eisenhower photo

Remarks at the Dartmouth College Commencement Exercises, Hanover, New Hampshire.

June 14, 1953

President Dickey, Secretary Pearson, members of Dartmouth's family and their friends:

Your president possesses a brash bravery approaching foolhardiness when he gives to me this platform in front of such an audience, with no other admonition except to speak informally, and giving me no limits of any other kind.

He has forgotten, I think, that old soldiers love to reminisce, and that they are, in addition, notoriously garrulous. But I have certain limitations of my own I learned throughout these many years, and I think they will serve to keep me from offending too deeply. But even if I do offend, I beg, in advance, the pardon of those families and friends, sweethearts that are waiting to greet these new graduates with a chaste handshake of congratulations, and assure you that any overstaying of my time was unintentional and just merely a product of my past upbringing.

First, I could not pass this occasion without the traditional congratulations to this Class, the completion of 4 years of arduous work at a college of such standing as Dartmouth, and of which there is no higher.

Next, I think I may be pardoned if I congratulate you on the quality of the addresses you have heard today up to this moment. I think that your commencement address and the two valedictory addresses established a standard that could well be one to be emulated even here in the future.

Now, with your permission, I want to talk about two points-two qualities--today that are purely personal. I am not going to be an exhorter, as Secretary Pearson has said. I want to talk about these two things and merely suggest to you certain ideas concerning them.

I am going to talk about fun--joy--happiness, just fun in life. I am going to talk a little about courage.

Now, as to fun: to get myself straight at once, for fear that in my garrulous way I might stray from my point, I shall say this: unless each day can be looked back upon by an individual as one in which he has had some fun, some joy, some real satisfaction, that day is a loss. It is un-Christian and wicked, in my opinion, to allow such a thing to occur.

Now, there are many, many different things and thoughts and ideas that will contribute--any acts of your own--that will contribute to the fun you have out of life. You can go along the bank of a stream in the tropics, and there is a crocodile lying in the sun. He looks the picture of contentment. They tell me that often they live to be a great age--a hundred years or more-and still lying in the sun and that is all they do.

Now, by going to Dartmouth, by coming this far along the road, you have achieved certain standards. One of those standards is: it is no longer so easy for you to have fun, and you can't be like a crocodile and sleep away your life and be satisfied. You must do something, and normally it must involve others, something you do for them. The satisfaction--it's trite but it's true-the satisfaction of a clear conscience, no matter what happens.

You can get a lot of fun out of shooting a good game of golf. But you wouldn't have the slightest fun out of it if you knew to achieve that first 79--you broke 80 today--if you did it by teeing up in the rough or taking the slightest advantage anywhere, and no one else in the world but you knew it. That game would never be a 79 to you, and so it was not worth while because you had no fun doing it.

Whatever you do--a little help to someone along the road-something you have achieved because you worked hard for it, like your graduation diploma today, those things have become worth while, and in your own estimation will contribute to your happiness. They will measure up to your standards because your standards have become those that only you know, but they have become very high. And if you do those things, they are the kind of things that will satisfy you and make life something that is joyous, that will cause your face to spread out a little, instead of going this way [indicating a long face]. There's too much of that in the world, anyway.

You are leaders. You are bound to be leaders because you have had advantages that make you leader to someone, whether you know it or not. There will be tough problems to solve. You have heard about them. You can't solve them with long faces-they don't solve problems, not when they deal with humans. Humans have to have confidence. You have got to help give it to them.

This brings me up to my second little topic, which is courage. I forget the author, but one many years ago, you know, uttered that famous saying, "The coward dies a thousand deaths, but the brave man dies but once." In other words, you can live happily if you have courage, because you are not fearing something that you can't help.

You must have courage to look at all about you with honest eyes--above all, yourself. And we go back to our standards. Have you actually measured up? If you have, it is that courage to look at yourself and say, well, I failed miserably there, I hurt someone's feelings needlessly, I lost my temper--which you must never do except deliberately. You did not measure up to your own standards.

Now, if you have the courage to look at yourself, soon you begin to achieve a code or a pattern that is closer to your own standards. By the same token, look at all that is dear to you: your own family. Of course, your children are going to be the greatest, the most extraordinary that ever lived. But, also, look at them as they are, occasionally.

Look at your country. Here is a country of which we are proud, as you are proud of Dartmouth and all about you, and the families to which you belong. But this country is a long way from perfection--a long way. We have the disgrace of racial discrimination, or we have prejudice against people because of their religion. We have crime on the docks. We have not had the courage to uproot these things, although we know they are wrong. And we with our standards, the standards given us at places like Dartmouth, we know they are wrong.

Now, that courage is not going to be satisfied--your sense of satisfaction is not going to be satisfied, if you haven't the courage to look at these things and do your best to help correct them, because that is the contribution you shall make to this beloved country in your time. Each of us, as he passes along, should strive to add something.

It is not enough merely to say I love America, and to salute the flag and take off your hat as it goes by, and to help sing the Star Spangled Banner. Wonderful! We love to do them, and our hearts swell with pride, because those who went before you worked to give to us today, standing here, this pride.

And this is a pride in an institution that we think has brought great happiness, and we know has brought great contentment and freedom of soul to many people. But it is not yet done. You must add to it.

Don't join the book burners. Don't think you are going to conceal faults by concealing evidence that they ever existed. Don't be afraid to go in your library and read every book, as long as that document does not offend our own ideas of decency. That should be the only censorship.

How will we defeat communism unless we know what it is, and what it teaches, and why does it have such an appeal for men, why are so many people swearing allegiance to it? It is almost a religion, albeit one of the nether regions.

And we have got to fight it with something better, not try to conceal the thinking of our own people. They are part of America. And even if they think ideas that are contrary to ours, their right to say them, their right to record them, and their right to have them at places where they are accessible to others is unquestioned, or it isn't America.

I fear I have already violated my promise not to stay too long and not to exhort. I could not, though, go back to that chair without saying that my sense of distinction in Dartmouth's honorary doctorate, in the overgenerous--extravagantly overgenerous remarks of your president in awarding me that doctorate, in the present of the cane from the young men of the graduating class-all of these things are very precious to me.

I have been fortunate in that my life has been spent with America's young men, probably one of the finest things that has happened to me in a very long life.

I thank you again for this.

Note: The President spoke at 12:22 p.m. In his opening words he referred to John Dickey, President of Dartmouth College, and Lester B. Pearson, Secretary of State for External Affairs of Canada.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, Remarks at the Dartmouth College Commencement Exercises, Hanover, New Hampshire. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/231609

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