Special Feature: President Obama to Visit Northwestern

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Presidents Past and Future Honored at Northwestern

America's next president will have a Northwestern degree

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October 16, 2008
Theodore Roosevelt
President Theodore Roosevelt, in top hat standing on the steps of Lunt Hall, visits Northwestern in 1903.

EVANSTON, Ill. --- The outcome of the 2008 United States presidential election is yet to be determined, but whoever becomes America's next president will have a degree from Northwestern University.

Presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama both were Northwestern commencement speakers and recipients of honorary doctor of laws degrees from the University -- McCain in 2005 and Obama in 2006. Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader also received an honorary doctor of laws in 1970.

For more than a century, U.S. presidents and presidential candidates have come to Northwestern to deliver a speech, receive an honorary degree or sometimes simply to pay a visit.

In 1893, Northwestern awarded Theodore Roosevelt his first honorary degree when he gave the 35th commencement speech to a crowd of 1,300 in the Chicago Auditorium. Roosevelt was 35 at the time and a U.S. Civil Service Commissioner. He returned to campus again in April 1903 on a goodwill tour of the West, this time as Commander-in-Chief. After a formal welcoming at the train station and a procession up Sheridan Road, he addressed 2,000 students and Evanston citizens from a temporarily constructed platform east of University Hall. To commemorate both visits to Northwestern, the class of 1893 donated a plaque in honor of Theodore Roosevelt that is now at the site of his 1903 speech.

Herbert Hoover visited Northwestern four times, delivering speeches on campus in 1933 and 1939 and attending a football game in 1940. During the 1933 visit he spoke at a University Club luncheon as a guest of then Northwestern president Walter Dill Scott. Several members of the political science and economic departments were in attendance to hear him discuss the important role of university men in that economically unstable time. Later in the day on a campus tour President Hoover was especially impressed with the arrangement and design of student housing. It is said he intended to share his observations with Stanford University where he served as trustee.

In August 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower received an honorary doctor of laws degree and delivered a special convocation to more than 23,000 people during the Second Assembly of the World Council of Churches on Northwestern's Deering Meadow. A reported crowd of more than 50,000 welcomed President Eisenhower as he landed in Glenview and made his way into Evanston. The President gave an inspirational speech urging the Council to lead the way in a great act of faith. The Chicago American newspaper considered this event to be "the most important gathering in the University's 103 year history."

In 1933, Gerald Ford, then a member of the University of Michigan football team, played against the Northwestern Wildcats and, in 1963, as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, returned to the University to speak to the Northwestern Mock Congress.

Other political leaders who visited Northwestern include President Jimmy Carter, who spoke about education in 1975; Michael Dukakis who delivered remarks during his run for the presidency against George H.W. Bush in 1988; and President Bill Clinton, who gave a speech about health care in 2006 at the Kellogg School.