While the commencement ceremonies at the United States Coast Guard Academy (USCGA) are always filled with a dazzling degree of pomp and circumstance, the Academy’s 78th commencement, on June 3, 1964, was especially memorable. For the first time in history, the President of the United States delivered the commencement speech.
Plans had been made the year before to have President John F. Kennedy, a World War II veteran with an affinity for the Navy and Coast Guard service branches, speak to the graduating USCGA class of 1964. After Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963, newly sworn-in President Lyndon B. Johnson decided to honor his predecessor’s intentions and announced his commitment to delivering a commencement speech at the Academy.
On a sunny, beautiful spring day, Marine One (the helicopter carrying the President) touched down in New London, and President Johnson arrived on the Coast Guard Academy campus to a 21-gun salute. Standing on a podium in the center of the school’s football field in front of 5,000 spectators, Johnson delivered a speech that was somber and serious in tone, praising the resolve of United States servicemen while reminding them of the “dark realities” of the lingering threat of nuclear war with the Soviets. He concluded by declaring his hope that “this Nation can someday, not too distant, lay aside its awesome power, and direct all its genius to the betterment of man.”
After his speech, Johnson administered the Officer’s Oath and handed out diplomas to all 109 members of the graduating class of 1964. In return, having obtained special permission from the Secret Service, Class President Robert Armacost presented the President with a customized class ring and officially declared him an honorary member of the Class of 1964.
Today, the President of the United States delivers commencement speeches to all four U.S. military service academies on a rotating basis. In 1964, Lyndon B. Johnson became the very first one to visit the Coast Guard Academy in New London, today in Connecticut history.
Robert Armacost, “Lyndon B. Johnson, Presidential Classmate, CGA ’64,” USCGA Alumni Association
Lyndon B. Johnson, “Commencement Address in New London at the United States Coast Guard Academy, June 3, 1964,” The American Presidency Project