Presidential Visits to MSU

22 02 2011

The nation celebrated Presidents Day yesterday and commemorated the great presidents of our nation’s past. I had always heard that many former presidents have experienced the vibrant atmosphere of MSU, but I never knew who came or for what reason. I did a little bit of research and found out that a total of 10 Commander in Chiefs and two First Ladies have paid a visit to Spartan Country.

President Theodore Roosevelt was the first leader of the country to grace our campus in 1907.  On May 31, 1907 the school was hosting its 50th anniversary and President Teddy addressed a crowd of 20,000 people to deliver a special address. He stood on an elevated platform at the top of the hill sloping down to what is now Adams Field in front of Landon, Yakeley, and Gilchrist Halls. After he delivered his address, the president personally handed out diplomas to each of the 96 graduating seniors in the Class of 1907. This graduating class was also particularly significant in that it included Myrtle Mowbray, the school’s first African-American graduate.

Former President William Howard Taft was the second president to visit MSU. He delivered a lecture on the League of Nations in the new college Gymnasium (now IM Circle) on April 6, 1919.

Future President Richard M. Nixon gave the 1957 commencement address to the graduating class at Spartan Stadium. He also would receive an honorary doctor of Law Degree from MSU.

Future President John F. Kennedy campaigned on campus prior to his election as president in 1960.

Former President Harry S. Truman also visited campus in 1960 to deliver the commencement address to the graduating class.

Former President Dwight D. Eisenhower was supposed to be the keynote speaker at the University’s Centennial Celebration (1955) but was unable to make it because he suffered a heart attack shortly before the event. College President John Hannah however invited him to visit MSU in 1961. Hannah gave Eisenhower a one-of-a-kind tour of our beautiful campus.

Future President Gerald Ford would make a total of three visits to our campus. The first was in 1965, then a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. House minority leader, to deliver the winter term commencement speech. Then as a vice president, he spoke at the Kellogg Center on May 24, 1974 while demonstrators protested the Watergate issues outside. The final time was his visit in 1998 when he gave the keynote address for the dedication of the new Detroit College of Law at MSU building.

President William Clinton would visit the university a total of five times in nine years. The first visit was for his presidential campaign to the MSU campus in 1992. That same year President George H.W. Bush, President Clinton, and H. Ross Perot would be the center of attention in the most watched U.S. Presidential debate in history. The debate took place on October 19, 1992 at the Wharton Center, and was viewed on television worldwide. Clinton would return to campus in 1995 to deliver the commencement speech at Spartan Stadium on May 5, 1995. He visited again the following year in 1996 to campaign for a second presidential term. His last visit to Michigan State was on January 9, 2001 to belatedly honor MSU’s 2000 NCAA championship basketball team. At this same time he reviewed the economic achievements of his administration as he spoke to a crowd of 11,500 at the Breslin Center.

The most recent president to grace our campus was current President Barack Obama. He visited in 2008 to promote his Presidential Campaign.

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt also visited MSU in  1940.

First Lady Barbara Bush accompanied her husband to MSU for the 1992 Presidential Debate.

For more images of Presidential visits to MSU…

University Archives and Historical Collections Flickr

MSU Spartans Facebook page

Source: The Spirit of Michigan State, J. Bruce McCristal

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