1941: Winston Churchill
The University’s Commencement--at least the main addresses--were simulcast on the radio as early as 1939. Perhaps the most notable occurred in 1941, when British Prime Minister Winston Churchill spoke via live radio transmission after receiving an honorary degree. Secrecy around the event and the speaker were maintained until the day before the event.
Churchill’s is the earliest Commencement recording in the Archives. Only a 1/4 inch audiotape copy is held; the whereabouts of the original recording, presumably on an LP, is unknown.
1966: Richard Nixon
A March 21, 1966 University press release announced that the June commencement speaker would be Richard Nixon, former vice president (1953-61), unsuccessful presidential candidate (1960), and future president (1969-1974).
The announcement of the choice was immediately decried, and a Campus Times editorial succinctly described the issue:
"It is Mr. Nixon’s public stand on academic freedom. Campaigning last year ... he quite energetically joined a right-wing chorus there demanding Rutgers fire a self-proclaimed Marxist professor [Eugene Genovese], for supporting a Vietcong victory... Mr Nixon’s behavior warrants repudiation, not honor. We defend his right to express his opinions as he chooses, but maintain that by honoring him, this university will be grievously compromising one of its most basic ideals."
The controversy was notable enough that CBS Evening News aired the story.
By April 15, Nixon announced that his personal policy was not to accept honorary degrees, thus settling the matter. His Commencement address was entitled "Academic Freedom."
1985: Tutu, Mangione, Colson, Cuomo
The Commencement speakers of 1985 may perhaps rank as the greatest lineup in UR’s recorded history--Nobel Peace Prize winner, Archbishop Desmond Tutu; Grammy Award-winner Chuck Mangione; ground-breaking anthropologist and women’s rights in academia pioneer Elizabeth Colson; and then-Governor of New York State Mario Cuomo.