Franklin D. Roosevelt photo

Remarks at Washington College, Chestertown, Md., on Receiving an Honorary Degree.

October 21, 1933

Chairman Brown, President Mead, friends of Washington College:

I do not think either that it would be appropriate or that I could say anything that would be adequate after the very splendid words that you have heard from the new President of Washington College. He has spoken as the new head of a living college, to living men and women. He has spoken of today, and he has spoken of tomorrow; yet in coming here, I cannot help but feel the past. I cannot help but feel the close relationship with the early days of the Republic, as I stand here, the second President of the United States to come to Washington College after a lapse of nearly a century and a half.

President Mead has spoken to you of the spirit of the pioneers. It is true that the pioneer was an individualist; but, at the same time, there was in the pioneer a spirit of cooperation and understanding of the need of building up, not a class, but a whole community. It was that spirit that made possible these United ' States themselves, and it is the understanding of that spirit which made our first President's name revered above that of any other American in all our history. You young men and young women who are attending this College, like the young men and young women who are attending all the colleges throughout the land, have a duty to your whole community. I often think of the words of a very elderly gentleman, President Eliot of Harvard, who, in many ways, was a revolutionist in educational circles. We were talking about the value of the educated people of the country to the country, and he made this remark, which I have always remembered: "If the ballot of the United States were limited to the holders of college degrees, the country would probably last about two years." And then he went on making the obvious point that if the governing of the United States were confined to one particular class of the community, whether they have the privilege of wealth or of education, something would be bound to go wrong, because of the very simple fact that there would be representation of only a minority of the people.

The wider we can have a distribution of wealth in the proper sense of that term, the more we can make it possible for every man, woman, and child throughout the land to have the necessities; and when they find themselves in such shape that they do not have to lie awake nights wondering where the food for the morrow is coming from, then we shall have the kind of security which means so much to the progress and the spirit of the country.

In the same way, if we could provide in the Nation for an adequate education for everybody, the spirit of the country would be vastly safeguarded. It is in this spirit that we encourage and foster the institutions of this Nation. And throughout the land, it is in this spirit that we are seeking, in times of depression, to prevent further attack on our educational system, which is building up the possibilities of this education to every boy and girl. In the last analysis we need people who have had a chance to look not just at the history of things in the past, but to look also into the application of that history to the problems of the moment and future. It is that thought which leads to an ideal of education.

I remember that when I was a boy in school in Massachusetts, Bishop Phillips Brooks made to my class a remark I shall never forget. He said: "You boys will be good citizens just as long as you remember your boyhood ideals." Those young ideals are just as true today as they were then. The ideals of young people are, on the whole, pretty fine and sound from the point of view of principle. Today they are making many changes in the methods, and many changes in the machinery of life, not just of government but of all human relationships, just as they will continue to make them; for a great many changes of government and human relationships are perfectly proper. But at the same time, the old-fashioned boyhood ideals, the old-fashioned principles, are going to keep the country going.

Every man and woman with an education has a twofold duty to perform. The first is to apply that education intelligently to problems of the moment; and the second is to obtain and maintain contact with and understanding of the average citizens of their own country. We have accomplished much, my friends, I think a great deal, in the last few months. Some countries which have dictators have laid down four-, five- and ten-year programs. I believe that in this country, which has not a dictatorship, we can move further toward our goal in a shorter space of time without giving it a definite number of years.

And so, in the years to come, not just through the life of this immediate program, but all my life, I shall continue to watch Washington College, the President, the faculty, its students, its graduates, with a feeling that I am one of them; that I have been very greatly honored in being made an alumnus of the College; and I breathe the same prayer that George Washington made to the College nearly a century and a half ago, that the Creator of the Universe will look down on the College and give it His benediction.

Let me tell you simply and from the bottom of my heart that I am proud to have come, proud of the honor; and I wish you Godspeed in the years to come.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Remarks at Washington College, Chestertown, Md., on Receiving an Honorary Degree. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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