Thursday, October 9, 2014

A History of U.S. Presidents at Peirce College

Last month PBS aired the Ken Burns’ series The Roosevelts, which documents the lives of the famous political family. Though it wasn’t mentioned on the show, there’s a Peirce connection to the family.  Teddy Roosevelt spoke at our commencement ceremonies twice; first in 1896, when he was the Police Commissioner of New York City, and again in 1918 as a former President. His 1918 speech was focused on US entry in the First World War. He urged graduates to “pay taxes cheerfully” and conserve food and energy at home to aid in the war effort.  “Teddy” was a critic of the Wilson Administration, believing they hadn’t done enough to prepare for the war, and he used part of the speech to express his criticisms. Perhaps to achieve balance, Wilson’s Vice President Thomas R. Marshall was the commencement speaker the following year.

Roosevelt was not the only former President to address Peirce graduates. Benjamin Harrison was the first person to address the college as a former President in 1893, with an address focused on labor issues. Grover Cleveland spoke to the Class of 1900, and Howard Taft addressed the graduates of 1913. Taft’s January 1913 speech took place just a few months after losing the Election of 1912 to Woodrow Wilson, and a number of local and national dignitaries attended the commencement. The city even held a parade in his honor on Broad Street, and he addressed a crowd in front of the Union League.

 Not every person asked to speak at commencement was able to attend; our archives contain a letter of regret from William McKinley, who stated he hoped to “sometime have the pleasure of visiting your school.” Unfortunately that opportunity never materialized; McKinley was assassinated in September of 1901, when then Vice President Roosevelt became President.  

1893 Commencement

Benjamin Harrison

Grover Cleveland

Howard Taft

McKinley Letter of Regret

Teddy Roosevelt