John F. Kennedy photo

Remarks at the Ground Breaking for the Robert Frost Library at Amherst College

October 26, 1963

Mr. McCloy, President Plimpton, members of the trustees, ladies and gentlemen:

I am privileged to join you as a classmate of Archibald MacLeish's, and to participate here at Amherst, and to participate in this ceremony.

I knew Mr. Frost quite late in his life, in really the last 4 or 5 years, and I was impressed, as I know all you were who knew him, by a good many qualities, but also by his toughness. He gives the lie, as a good many other poets have, to the fact that poets are rather sensitive creatures who live in the dark of the garret. He was very hardboiled in his approach to life, and his desires for our country. He once said that America is the country you leave only when you want to go out and lick another country. He was not particularly belligerent in his relations, his human relations, but he felt very strongly that the United States should be a country of power, of force, to use that power and force wisely. But he once said to me not to let the Harvard in me get to be too important. So we have followed that advice.

Home, he once wrote, is the place where when you have to go there they have to take you in. And Amherst took him in. This was his home off and on for 22 years. The fact that he chose this college, this campus, when he could have gone anywhere and would have been warmly welcomed, is a tribute to you as much as it is to Mr. Frost.

When he was among you, he once said, "I put my students on the operating table" and proceeded to take ideas they didn't know they had out of them. The great test of a college student's chances, he also wrote, is when we know the sort of work for which he will neglect his studies.

In 1937 he said of Amherst, "I have reason to think they like to have me here." And now you are going to have him here for many, many years. Professor Kittredge, at Harvard, once said that they could take down all the buildings of Harvard, and if they kept Widener Library, Harvard would still exist.

Libraries are memories and in this library you will have the memory of an extraordinary American; much more than that, really--an extraordinary human being. And also you will have the future, and all the young men who come into this library will touch something of distinction in our national life, and, I hope, give something to it.

I am proud to be associated with this great enterprise.

Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 1:20 p.m. In his opening remarks he referred to John J. McCloy, chairman of the board of trustees of Amherst College, Calvin H. Plimpton, president of the college, and Archibald MacLeish, who with the President was awarded an honorary degree of doctor of laws.

John F. Kennedy, Remarks at the Ground Breaking for the Robert Frost Library at Amherst College Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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