Graduations that Never Happened — Herbert Hoover

Stanford University Surveying Squad, 1893 – Arthur Diggles, R.E. McDonnell, Herbert Hoover and James White. Palo Alto, California

by Spencer Howard

During his lifetime, Herbert Hoover earned a Bachelors degree in geology from Stanford University and was awarded more than 80 honorary degrees from Universities around the world for his many humanitarian efforts.  One distinction he never earned, however, was a high school diploma.

As a child, Hoover attended the local school in his hometown of West Branch, Iowa.  His father passed away when he was 6 years old and his mother just three years later, leaving “Bert” and his siblings orphaned.  In 1885, at the age of 11, he was sent to Oregon to live with his uncle, John Minthorn and his family.  Minthorn was the superintendent of a new Quaker school in Newberg, Oregon — Friends Pacific Academy.  Bert attended the Academy for two and a half years.  

In 1888, Minthorn resigned from the Academy and moved his family to Salem, Oregon where he became a partner in the Oregon Land Company, a real estate enterprise.  Bert went with the family, and rather than attending school took a job as an office boy in his uncle’s business.  He took some night classes at a business college, and learned bookkeeping and typing.  In 1891, having decided to pursue a career as an engineer, Hoover sought to resume his studies and applied to a new school, Leland Stanford Junior University, set to open in Palo Alto that fall.  In the spring, Hoover took the entrance exams in Portland, Oregon, and he failed all of them except mathematics.  Determined to succeed, he studied hard over the summer and took the entrance exams again in the fall.  He received acceptable marks in every subject except English, but was admitted to Stanford on the condition of taking extra credits in English.

After four memorable years at Stanford, Hoover received his bachelor’s degree in geology.  But as he later wrote, “All of [my] extra-curricular matters so crowded my life that I neglected to discharge those conditions on entrance ‘credits’ under which I had entered as a freshman. Had it not been for the active intervention of my friends, Dr. Branner and Professor J. Perrin Smith, who insisted among other things that I could write English, those implacable persons in the University office would have prevented my getting a diploma with my own class. Nevertheless it duly arrived. It has been my lot in life to be the recipient of honorary diplomas (often in exchange for Commencement addresses) but none ever had the sanctity or, in my opinion, the importance of this one. I listened to Dr. Jordan’s fine Commencement address with my mind mostly on the sinking realization that a new era was opening for me with only $40 in cash and the need of finding an immediate job.”

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