Remembering FDR’s commencement address at Oglethorpe

Backstage at Atlanta’s Fox Theatre, Judge Edgar Watkins adjusts Governor Roosevelt’s doctoral hood. Oglethorpe President Thornwell Jacobs stands to the far left.

On May 22, 1932, then New York Governor Franklin Delano Roosevelt received a Doctor of Laws honorary degree from Oglethorpe University at the commencement ceremony held at the Fox Theatre.

He gave a rousing speech about the state of the nation and the role of youth in its future. That speech went on to become historically significant as the beginning of the future President’s New Deal plan.

“The country needs and, unless I mistake its temper, the country demands bold, persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method and try it: If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something. …

We need enthusiasm, imagination and the ability to face facts, even unpleasant ones, bravely…

We need the courage of the young. Yours is not the task of making your way in the world, but the task of remaking the world which you will find before you. May every one of us be granted the courage, the faith and the vision to give the best that is in us to that remaking!”

Thornwell Jacobs, president of Oglethorpe in 1932, chose to award Roosevelt with the honorary degree “in recognition of his high achievements in statesmanship, economics, and philanthropy.”  (New York Times, March 28, 1931.)

FDR had deep connections to Georgia. He often visited the state for treatment of his paralytic illness. His personal retreat, Little White House, was built on his 1,750-acre farm at the top of Pine Mountain. The farm is now part of Georgia’s biggest state park that was named after him.

President Roosevelt’s words withstand the test of time—and his full Oglethorpe commencement speech is well worth the read!

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