Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Sunday, April 22, 2018

From Lincoln to Obama: 11 presidents visit AU for speeches, recreation

Since President Theodore Roosevelt laid the cornerstone of the McKinley Building in 1902, 11 U.S. presidents have been to AU for various reasons.

Lincoln was the first president to visit the grounds AU is currently built on, however the school was not yet incorporated, according to University Archivist Susan McElrath.

Lincoln came here to inspect Fort Gaines during the Civil War, the farmland that is now the University site.

During his visit, Lincoln and his wife Mary dined on the camp’s French fare with officers, according to the Tenleytown Historical Society.

Lincoln was said to have declared the meal the best one he’d had in Washington.

“If their men could fight as well as they could cook, the regiment would do very well indeed,” he said, according to the historical society.

Decades later, Roosevelt laid the University’s cornerstone, and President Wilson gave AU’s opening speech when its construction was finished 12 years later in 1914, according to McElrath.

Presidents Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge and John F. Kennedy each gave a commencement address at AU.

Kennedy’s 1963 commencement address is one of his most notable speeches and one of the most memorable presidential visits at AU, according to McElrath.

In this speech, Kennedy called on the former Soviet Union to work with the U.S. to achieve a nuclear test ban treaty and reduce international tensions.

This was his second speech at AU, in addition to his earlier 1960 address during the Kennedy-Nixon debate before his presidency, according to McElrath.

President Barack Obama delivered an invitation-only speech on immigration reform in the new School of International Service building last July.

Student Government President Nate Bronstein gave the Pledge of Allegiance at the event.

“Everyone was hyped,” he said in an e-mail. “I still have trouble describing the excitement that was present that day. It was the first time I changed my status on Facebook and got over 100 likes and comments in the course of three hours.”

Before he gave the Pledge, the Secret Service had him try out the podium, to see if he was too short. He wasn’t.

Andy MacCracken, former SG president and senior in the School of International Service, attended the event and was inspired by Obama’s speech.

“Any presidential speech in person is inspiring, but I remember being particularly moved by Obama’s words at AU,” MacCracken said in an e-mail. “He called on the country to recall our origins, culminating in him reciting “The New Colossus,” the poem on the Statue of Liberty.”

Although Obama’s speech was important, MacCracken said he does not believe it was as influential as Kennedy’s.

“Will it have as big a place in the country’s history as JFK’s 1963 peace speech? I don’t think so,” he said. “But it was a big moment for our community, and his choice of AU as a location for his speech shows why AU is an important player in national and global affairs.”

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