In June 1963, five months before he was assassinated, President Kennedy gave the commencement address at American University in Washington. My comments follow the speech.
President Anderson, members of the faculty, Board of Trustees, distinguished guests, my old colleague, Senator Bob Byrd, who has earned his degree through many years of attending night law school, while I am earning mine in the next 30 minutes, ladies and gentlemen:
It is with great pride that I participate in this ceremony of the American University, sponsored by the Methodist Church, founded by Bishop John Fletcher Hurst, and first opened by President Woodrow Wilson in 1914. This is a young and growing university, but it has already fulfilled Bishop Hurst’s enlightened hope for the study of history and public affairs in a city devoted to the making of history and to the conduct of the public’s business. By sponsoring this institution of higher learning for all who wish to learn whatever their color or their creed, the Methodists of this area and the nation deserve the nation’s thanks, and I commend all those who are today graduating.
Professor Woodrow Wilson once said that every man sent out from a university should be a man of his nation as well as a man of his time, and I am confident that the men and women who carry the honor of graduating from this institution will continue to give from their lives, from their talents, a high measure of public service and public support.
“There are few earthly things more beautiful than a University,” wrote John Masefield, in his tribute to the English Universities – – and his words are equally true here. He did not refer to spires and towers, to campus greens and ivied walls. He admired the splendid beauty of the University, he said, because it was ” a place where those who hate ignorance may strive to know, where those who perceive truth may strive to make others see.”
I have, therefore, chose this time and this place to discuss a topic on which ignorance too often abounds and the truth is to rarely perceived – – yet it is the most important topic on earth : world peace.
What kind of peace do I mean? What kind of peace do we seek? Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war. Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave. I am talking about genuine peace – – the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living — the kind that enables man and nations to grow and to hope and to build a better life for their children – – not merely peace for Americans by peace for all men and women – – not merely peace in our time but peace for all time.