Remarks to the Students of Trinity College in Durham, North Carolina
Mr. Mayor, people of Durham and undergraduates and graduates of Trinity College:
I know that the citizens of Durham will not begrudge my making a special address to the representative of a great typical Southern college, which because it is a typical Southern college, is a typical American college. In speaking today to you undergraduates and graduates of Trinity (and when I speak to the graduates of Trinity I speak to both the United States Senators of North Carolina, a pretty good showing for one college), I speak not only to you but through you to the college men of the South. I have been more impressed than I can well express by the first article in the Constitution of Trinity; the article that sets forth the aims of the college. Not for your sake (for you are familiar with it), but for the sake of all the college men North and South I am going to read that article: "The aims of Trinity College are to assert a faith in the eternal union of knowledge and religion set forth in the teachings and character of Jesus Christ, the Son of God; to advance learning to all lines of truth; to defend scholarship against all false notions and ideals; to develop a Christian love of freedom and truth; to educate a sincere spirit of tolerance; to discourage all partisan and sectarian strife; and to render the largest permanent service to the individual, the State, the Nation and the Church. Unto these ends shall the affairs of this college always be administered."
I know of no other college which has so nobly set forth as the object of its being the principles to which every college should be devoted in whatever portion of this Union it may be placed. You stand for all these things for which the scholar must stand if he is to render real and lasting service to the State. You stand for academic freedom, for the right of private judgment, for the duty more incumbent upon the scholar than upon any other man, to tell the truth as he sees it, to claim for himself and to give to others.
There must be no coercion of opinion if collegiate training is to bring forth full fruit. You men of this college, you men throughout the South who have had collegiate training, you men throughout the Union who have had collegiate training, bear a peculiar burden of responsibility. I want you to have a good time, and I believe you do. I believe in play with all my heart. Play when you play, but work while you work, and remember, that your having gone through college does not so much confer a special privilege as it imposes a special obligation on you. We have a right to expect a special quality of leadership from the men to whom much has been given in the way of a collegiate education. You are not entitled to any special privilege, but you are entitled to be held to a peculiar accountability; you have earned the right to be held peculiarly responsible for what you do.
Each one of you, if he is worth his salt, wishes, when he graduates, to pay some portion of the debt due to his alma mater. You have received from her, during your years of attendance in her halls, certain privileges in the way of scholarship, in the way of companionship, which makes it incumbent upon you to repay what you have been given.
You cannot repay that to the college save in one way. By the quality of your citizenship, as displayed in the actual affairs in life, you can make it an honor to the college to have sent you forth into the great world. That is the only way in which you can repay to the college what the college has done for you. I earnestly hope and believe that you and those like you in all the colleges of this land will make it evident to the generation that is rising that you are fit to take leader ship, that the training has not been wasted, that you are ready to render to the State the kind of service which is invaluable, because it cannot be bought, because there is no price that can be put upon it.
We have the right to expect from college men not merely disinterested service, but intelligent service. The few peoples who exercise self-government always have to war not merely against the knavish man who deliberately does what he knows to be wrong, but against the foolish man who may mean very well, but who in actual fact turns out the ally of the other man who does not mean well; and we must depend upon you men who have been given special facilities in education to guide our people aright so that they shall neither fall into the pit of folly nor into the pit of knavery.
Theodore Roosevelt, Remarks to the Students of Trinity College in Durham, North Carolina Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/343631