Rites of Spring: Public Addresses to Graduates

Stanford University, 1941

By Matthew Schaefer

While in a research dalliance regarding Allan Hoover’s graduation from Stanford, I learned that his father, Herbert Hoover, was tapped twice to deliver the commencement address at Stanford.  This brought me up short.  Even though I recognize that commencement addresses are largely forgettable exercises in oratory, I was abashed to realize that I’d overlooked this aspect of Hoover’s public life.

His first address to Stanford’s graduating class was on June 22, 1925.  Then Secretary of Commerce, Hoover spoke on ‘The Problems of Our Economic Evolution.’  The gist of his comments was that economic development ‘dominated the whole spiritual, social and political life of our country and the world.’  This offered equal prospects for happiness and destruction.  The only countervailing forces were extended government power and the cooperative efforts of associational groups in society.  This was pretty dry fare for the graduating seniors, including Herbert Hoover, Jr.

Hoover’s second address to Stanford graduates took place on June 16, 1935.  The intervening decade had seen Hoover elected President in a landslide victory in 1928, tied inextricably to the Great Depression, and voted out of office in a landslide defeat in 1932.  These life experiences tempered Hoover.  He opened this speech with humor, describing his state of mind as an imminent graduate forty years earlier.  Hoover was ‘somewhat distracted by the sinking realization of a shortage of cash working capital and the necessity to find an immediate job…. I was earnestly wishing some person with a profit motive would allow me to try to earn him a profit.’  Hoover eventually found work: ‘But somehow, both in the stages of manual labor and professional work, I missed the discovery that I was a wage slave.’

Hoover then embarked on a fifteen page explication of ‘The Essentials of Social Growth in America,’ laying out ten major foundations for social security.  Chief among these were freedom to worship, to think, and to speak, economic security and self-government.  Hoover may have lost the attention of some of his audience by the time he reached point 10.D: ‘Social security must be built upon a cult of work, not a cult of leisure.’  He concluded, ‘All of these attainments can be realized through faith, courage and a steady will.’

Fortunately, Hoover’s crack secretariat kept copies of these speeches in the ‘Hoover Bible,’ so that curious archivists [and others with an interest] may compare and contrast.  In addition to these speeches the ‘Hoover Bible’ contains his commencement addresses to William Penn College, Drake University, Haverford College and other learned institutions.

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