JFK’s Challenge to UMD Students

Uncle Sam Says - jfk wants you to get involved in politics

On March 14th, we left a teaser for you about a U.S. Senator from Massachusetts who delivered the 1958 convocation address. We hope you were able to guess the name of this illustrious campus visitor: none other than John F. Kennedy! In the spirit of primary season, we thought we would share Kennedy’s message leading up to the primaries for the 1960 election.

First of all, The Diamondback reported that Kennedy claimed to his audience of 5,500 at Ritchie Coliseum on April 28, 1958, that “he has no plans to enter the Maryland primaries, or any other primary.” Ironically, “[h]e stated that he is not to be considered a candidate for the presidency.”

Instead, Kennedy specifically directed his message to the students in the audience. He encouraged them to apply their talents to political life. He described politics as “a most neglected and abused profession” and stressed that it was the duty of the American people to commit their talents to solving world crises. “Every man sent out from a university today should be a man of his nation,” he claimed, in reference to concerns about the loyalty of college students in the midst of the Red Scare.

Applause for JFK at convocation 1958
Kennedy delivered his commencement speech 58 years ago this Thursday. #tbt

Kennedy, who did not officially announce his presidential campaign until 1960, returned to the Ritchie Coliseum one year after his convocation address. On May 17, 1959, the University of Maryland presented Kennedy with a stuffed Terrapin in gratitude for his return visit.

JFK with stuffed Terrapin 1959

The Diamondback’s reporting on famous visitors to campus, including these two historic visits by a future president, is essential to the history of the University of Maryland. As the university’s primary student newspaper, The Diamondback provides a critical student voice. For this reason, the University Archives is digitizing the entire run of the newspaper; it is currently on microfilm in the Special Collections and University Archives. Thanks to generous donors and our successful Launch UMD campaign, The Diamondback will be online and searchable in 2016.

In the meantime, keep checking our blog every other Monday for updates from graduate student assistant Jen Wachtel, who is compiling the metadata for this digitization project. This post is the seventh in a series; follow the #digiDBK hashtag on Twitter and check the DigiDBK tag on Terrapin Tales for updates and previous posts.

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