President's speech a first for MIT


Other US Presidents have visited MIT before and after their terms of office, but President Clinton will be the first sitting president to speak at the Institute when he delivers a Commencement address on June 5.

Harry S. Truman accepted an invitation to address the MIT mid-century convocation in 1949, shortly after he was elected. But he withdrew on March 21, just 11 days before his scheduled appearance in Boston Garden.

MIT President J.R. Killian Jr. said President Truman cited "the unexpected pressure of his official duties" in canceling his appearance. However, many people thought the real reason was that Mr. Truman felt he was being upstaged by the other principal speaker, Great Britain's wartime prime minister, Winston Churchill, who was scheduled to talk the day before President Truman. Former Minnesota governor Harold Stassen, then president of the University of Pennsylvania, pinch-hit for the President.

By the time Mr. Truman spoke in Kresge Auditorium on Sept. 28, 1956, he was an ex-president. His talk was sponsored by the MIT Lecture Series Committee and the Harvard Law School Forum.������������������

In a partisan campaign speech, Mr. Truman accused President Dwight Eisenhower, then running for his second term, of providing ineffective leadership. Coincidentally, Mr. Stassen was the rebuttal speaker for the Republicans a week later. Again, he was a pinch-hitter, this time filling in for Attorney General Herbert Brownell.

Mr. Truman's predecessor in the White House, Franklin D. Roosevelt, was assistant secretary of the Navy when he attended dedication ceremonies for the Cambridge campus on June 12, 1916. Mr. Roosevelt, who was elected to his first term as President in 1932, viewed portions of the celebration with MIT President Richard C. Maclaurin and other dignitaries from the yacht of Charles A. Stone, who chaired the reunion committee.

George Bush was vice president when he addressed the annual dinner meeting of the MIT Sustaining Fellows in DuPont Gymnasium on Oct. 30, 1981. President John F. Kennedy taped remarks that were played at the MIT centennial banquet in Boston on April 8, 1961.

James Donovan (SB '28) wrote to former MIT Museum Director Warren Seamans in 1984 to inform him that President Calvin Coolidge had visited MIT. Mr. Coolidge "went to Walker Memorial where he was served tea," wrote Mr. Donovan, now deceased. There is no������������������other record or recollection of that visit.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on April 29, 1998.


Topics: Commencement, Special events and guest speakers

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