S. Truman, 1946
President Truman’s Remarks at
Washington College on Receiving an Honorary Doctor of
Laws Degree - June 1, 1946
Dr. Mead, Colonel Brown,
Governor O’Conor, distinguished Senators, Congressman
Roe, ladies and gentlemen, and this wonderful bevy of
graduates, young men and young women, here before me, it
is a very great honor to me to be here today.
I can’t tell you how much I
appreciate it. The honor that is given to me today
by this venerable institution, and it is a venerable
institution according to our standards in this Western
Hemisphere, is one that I’ll treasure all the rest of my
This college has a wonderful
background and history. I listened to President Mead a
while ago as he discussed that background and history.
One of the things I like about this college is that it
is a small college in a rural setting.
I was born in a small town. I
was raised in a small town. Don’t quote me on that in
Independence. I spent the best 10 years of my life
operating a 540-acre farm in Jackson County, Mo., and
that farm is still home to me.
This is a wonderful institution
on account of its connection with the first President of
the United States. It was a privilege the other night to
be present at the graduation of my daughter, at another
Washington University in which George Washington was
interested, an in which he had some measure of helping
the founding. In fact, he directed that the institution
be founded in his will. I understand that he was a
trustee of this great institution when he was made
President of the United States. A great honor.
My great predecessor, who I
succeeded at his death, was also an honorary graduate of
this great institution, and he liked small colleges and
small communities and rural communities. He always
called himself a farmer. Although he was graduated from
Harvard and Columbia in a community that is very large
in population, I think his heart ran to the soil.
I know that mine does.
I think this country is great on
account of its small educational institutions, more than
anything else. You know James A. Garfield said that his
idea of a college was a bench in a log house with
himself on one end and Mark Hopkins on the other, and
his idea on that was that Mark Hopkins was famous as an
educator because he was an individual educator.
In institutions such as this the
teachers and the professors can give individual
attention to each member of each class. As you were
receiving your diplomas, I listened to Dr. Mead and he
had a very special salutation for each and every one of
Now I would like for the
president of Harvard, of Yale, of Columbia or Princeton
to have that individual touch that your president had
here today. That is what young men and young women need
when they are getting an education. They want someone
whom they can trust, and they want someone in whom they
can have confidence, to whom they can take their
problems and have them solved.
This looks to me as if it is a
wonderful class. When the roll was called, I thought I
was in Jackson County, Mo. The names are exactly the
This is true all over the United
States in these small educational institutions.
You know the reason for that.
Every one of those small institutions gives some two or
three men a chance to be “big shots” in their
communities. When you go to the National City Bank
or the United States Steel Corporation or the
Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, you will find one
“big shot” and a hundred or so vice presidents, vice
presidents, vice presidents. So many vice presidents you
can’t tell how the institution’s run.
I believe that an institution
such as this will contribute more in the long run to the
welfare of this great nation of ours than any other
thing that is this country at this time.
You know I am an optimist so far
as the United States of American is concerned. I think
it is the greatest country that the sun has ever shone
upon, and I think it is facing the greatest age in its
history. And I think that is due to the fact that the
country is going to be in the hands of you young people
who are going to carry on the tradition of the great man
who was a trustee when he became President of the United
States, the man who helped to institute the greatest
government in the history of the world, a government, as
I have said time and again, which has a diffusion of
powers and which prevents any one man or any one group
of men from gaining absolute control. Sometimes they
think they have control, but it has never tuned out that
way, and it never will.
Now, I can’t tell you how
very much I appreciate the honor which you have
conferred upon me. I can’t tell you how much I
appreciate it, but from the bottom of my heart I thank