Commencement Address of Winston Churchill


Commencement Address of Winston Churchill




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NBC Announcer

In cooperation with station WHAM and the National Broadcasting Company, you're about to hear Dr. Alan Valentine, president of the University of Rochester, confer an honorary degree Doctor of Laws upon Prime Minister Winston Churchill of Great Britain. The occasion is the university's 91st annual commencement exercises now in progress here in the Eastman theatre. At the close of Dr. Valentine's citation, you will hear a reply from Mr. Churchill who will speak directly from London, Dr. Valentine.


Alan Valentine

Winston Churchill, from our cities, hills and plains, sprawling between two oceans. From this new nation conceived in Liberty, our hearts speak out to England. Mine- laden seas cannot divide us from that ancient stronghold of free men, nor bombs drown out their steady voices. England and America: our common cause is freedom. You lead that cause in England, resisting infection and the hand of war. Your skies are darkened while ours are safe and clear. Your coasts beleaguered while our long shores lie open in the sun. No need for us to offer comfort, for your bluff words cheer England and cheer us. No need to do you honor, for even time hastens to write high your name. No need to cry courage to the sons of England. When Marlborough goes off to war, no one knows when he will come back. But we know he will not give up. Come the three quarters of the world in arms and England shall shock them. Rochester is an English name and the birthplace of your mother. From England we of Rochester learn the democracy of truth. To England go our scientists and our weapons to help your democracy and ours. And we who remain here, we must dedicate ourselves to the great task that this government by the people shall not perish from the earth. Winston Churchill, no longer historian and statesman but symbol of Britain aroused, stout in heart, direct in speech, cheerful in reverses, calm in confusion. America admires you and no turn of Fortune you can make us forget. To few men has so much been given. Of no man has more been asked. Your countrymen have placed in your hands the fate of England at war. Your fellow men will turn to you to help create a world of peace. Can you in Britain, can we in America acquire the greatness of heart, the vision, the magnanimity for that? Lead Britain to that end and generations the world over will rise to bless you. May peace with freedom be your crowning work. By virtue of the authority vested in me by the Board of Trustees of this university, I confer upon you, the spokesman of liberty and justice in the old world, the degree of Doctor of Laws honoris causa, and with the hopes of free men and women across this continent. I now hand the Diploma of your degree to your representative on this platform, Noel Hall, Master of Arts at Oxford and Princeton, sometime professor at the University of London, and now British minister to Washington. And now must, here is Mr. Churchill, who will speak to us from London.

Winston Churchill

I am grateful, President Valentine, for the honor, which you have conferred upon me in making me a Doctor of Laws, of Rochester University in the State of New York. I am extremely complicated complimented by the expressions of praise and commendation in which you have addressed me, not because I am nor ever can be worthy of them. But because they are an expression of American confidence, and that may I say affection, which I shall ever strive to deserve. But definitely most in this ceremony is that sense of kinship and of unity which I feel exists between us this afternoon. As I speak, from Downing Street, to Rochester University, and through you to the people of the United States, I almost feel I have the right to do so, because my mother, as you have stated, was born in your city. And here my grandfather, Leonard Jerome, lived for many years, conducting as a prominent arising citizen, a newspaper with the excellent 18th century title of The Plain Dealer. The great Burke has truly said, "People will not look forward to posterity who never look backward to the ancestors." And I believe it most agreeable to recall, do that the Jeromes were rooted for many generations, in American soil, and fought in Washington's armies, for the independence of the American colonies, and the foundation of the United States. And I expect I was on both sides then. And I must say, I feel on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean now. At intervals, during the last 40 years, I have addressed scores of great American audiences in almost every part of the Union. I have learned to admire the courtesy of these audiences, their love of free speech, their sense of fair play, their sovereign sense of humor, neverminding the joke that is turned against themselves. Their earnest, ferocious desire to come to the root of the matter, and to be well and truly informed on old world affairs. Now, in this time of world storm, when I've been called upon by King and Parliament, and with the support of all parties in the state, and the goodwill of the people to bear the chief responsibility in Great Britain. And when I have had the supreme honor of speaking for the British nation, in its most deadly danger, and in its finest hour, it has given me comfort and inspiration to feel--that I think as you do--that our hands are joined across the ocean, and that our pulses throb and beat as one. Indeed, I will make so bold as to say that, at here least in my mother's birth city of Rochester, I hold a latch key to American hearts. Strong tides of emotion, fierce surges of fashion, sweep broad expanses of the Union in this year of fate. In that prodigious travail, there are many elemental forces. There is much heart searching and self-questioning, some pangs and sorrow, and conflict of voices. But no fear. The world is witnessing the birth throes of a sublime resolve. I shall have presumed to have confessed to you that I have no doubts what resolve will be. The destiny of mankind is not decided by material complications.

When great causes are on the move in the world, stirring all men so, drawing them from that fire side, casting aside comfort, amusement, wealth, and the pursuit of happiness in response to impulses at once all striking and irresistible, then it is that we learn that we are not spirits, not animals, and that something is going on in space and time and beyond space and time, which, whether we like it or not, spells duty. A wonderful story is unfolding before our eyes. How it will end, we are not allowed to know.  But on both sides of the Atlantic, we all feel, I repeat all, that we are a part of it. That our future and that of many generations is at stake. We are sure that the character of human society will be shaped by the resolves we take and the deeds we do. We need not bewail the fact that we have been called upon to face such solemn responsibilities, we may be proud and even rejoice amid our tribulations that we have been born at this cardinal time, for so great an age and so splendid an opportunity of service here below.

Wickedness, enormous, panoplied, embattled, seemingly triumphant, casts its shadow over Europe and Asia. Laws, customs, traditions are broken up. Justice is thrown from her seat. The rights of the weak are trampled down. The grand freedoms of which the President of the United States has spoken so movingly are spurned and chained. The whole stature of man, his genius, his initiative and his nobility, is ground down under systems of mechanical barbarism and of organized and scheduled terror.

For more than a year, we British have stood alone, uplifted by your sympathy and respect. Sustained by our own unconquerable willpower, and by the increasing growth and hopes of your massive aid. In these British islands that look so small upon the map, we stand the faithful guardians of the rights and dearest hopes of a dozen states and nations now gripped and tormented in a base and cruel servitude. Whatever happens, we shall endure to the end.

But what is the explanation of the enslavement of Europe by the German Nazi regime? How did they do it? It is but a few years ago since one united gesture by the people great and small, who now lie broken in the dust, would have warded off from mankind the fearful ordeal it has had to undergo. But there was no unity. There was no vision. The nations were pulled out one by one while the others gaped and chattered. One by one, each in his turn, they let themselves be caught. One after another they were felled by brutal violence or poisoned from within by subtle intrigue. 

Now, the old Lion with her lion cubs at her side, stands alone against hunters who are armed with deadly weapons and impelled by desperate and destructive rage. Is the tragedy to repeat itself once more? Ah no! This is not the end of the tale. The stars in their courses proclaim the deliverance of mankind. Not so easily shall the onward progress of the peoples be barred. Not so easily shall the lights of freedom die. But, but, time is short. Every month that passes adds to the length and to the perils of the journey that will have to be made. United we stand. Divided we fall. Divided, the Dark Ages return. United, we can save and guide the world!

BBC Announcer

We return you now to Rochester. 

NBC Announcer

Ladies and gentleman, you've just heard the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, of Great Britain speaking to you from London over the facilities of the BBC, the network the National Broadcasting Company and the station WHAM in Rochester, New York. Mr. Churchill's talk was in reply to a citation from Dr. Alan Valentine, President of the University of Rochester in which Mr. Valentine conferred upon the British Prime Minister the honorary degree Doctor of Laws. This is the National Broadcasting Company.



Churchill, Winston, 1874-1965, “Commencement Address of Winston Churchill,” RBSCP Exhibits, accessed May 27, 2024,

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