June 1947; graduation season and the season for commencement addresses. Princeton University conferred Doctor of Laws degrees on a number of notables in 1947. Among them, General Eisenhower and Judge Learned Hand as well as the keynote speaker, President Truman.
Here’s a text excerpt from the complete address:
President Truman: “It is with a great deal of pleasure, and much pride, that I am now able to count myself as a member of the Princeton family. Princeton University has conferred an honor upon me for which I am deeply grateful. I consider it a special privilege to have received the degree of Doctor of Laws at the Final Convocation of the Bicentennial Year in the presence of this distinguished company.
On an earlier occasion of equal significance in the history of this University, the President of the United States, Grover Cleveland, spoke in 1896 at the Princeton Sesquicentennial Ceremonies. President Cleveland seized that opportunity to charge our colleges and universities with the task of supplying a “constant stream of thoughtful, educated men” to the body politic–men who were eager to perform public service for the benefit of the Nation. He chided our institutions of higher learning for their lack of interest in public affairs, and held them responsible for the disdain with which many of the best educated men of the day viewed politics and public affairs.
Happily for us, that attitude on the part of our universities vanished long ago. I am certain that no observer of the American scene in recent years has detected any reluctance on the part of our educators to enter the political arena when their services have been needed. And our schools have made much progress in supplying the “constant stream of thoughtful, educated men” for public service called for by President Cleveland half a century ago.
That task is more important today than at any previous time in our national history.
In our free society, knowledge and learning are endowed with a public purpose–a noble purpose, close to the heart of democracy. That purpose is to help men and women develop their talents for the benefit of their fellow citizens. Our advance in the natural sciences has led to almost miraculous achievements, but we have less reason to be proud of our progress in developing the capacity among men for cooperative living. In the present critical stage of world history, we need, more than ever before, to enlist all our native integrity and industry in the conduct of our common affairs.
The role of the United States is changing more rapidly than in any previous period of our history. We have had to assume worldwide responsibilities and commitments. Our people have placed their trust in the Government as the guardian of our democratic ideals and the instrument through which we work for enduring peace.
The success of the Government’s efforts in achieving these ends will depend upon the quality of citizenship of our people. It will also depend upon the extent to which our leaders in business, labor, the professions, agriculture, and every other field, appreciate the role of their Government and the greatness of its tasks.
Our schools must train future leaders in all fields to understand and concern themselves with the expanded role of the Government, and–equally important–to see the need for effective administration of the Government’s business in the public interest.”
Here is that complete address from Princeton University, along with remarks by General Eisenhower and Learned Hand from June 17, 1947.