A history of U.S. presidents’ visits to Baylor
From Truman to Obama, Baylor has a legacy of hosting presidents that has enabled generations of students to see history up-close. As of this writing, seven of the last 12 sitting U.S. Presidents have visited campus while in office. Essentially, every 10 years or so, Baylor hosts the leader of the free world — an incredible undertaking and incredible opportunity for the Baylor family to hear from the following presidents:
* Harry Truman (1947): Our nation’s 33rd president was the first to visit Baylor. He was awarded an honorary doctor of law degree and spoke to Baylor students and faculty on issues of peace and world economics, less than two years after the conclusion of World War II. [Read about his visit in this 1947 Lariat coverage.]
* Dwight Eisenhower (1956): As the first president born in the state of Texas, it only made sense that he would visit Baylor, addressing the Class of 1956 at Spring Commencement ceremonies. “Ike” also addressed issues of foreign policy and affairs. He urged Baylor students to build a better world, and to remember they come from a university that “strives to develop wisdom… and understanding of men’s relationship to their fellow man in a world created for their stewardship by a God in whose image they are all made.”
* Lyndon B. Johnson (1965): No U.S. president had deeper Baylor family roots than LBJ. His maternal great-grandfather, George Washington Baines, served as the third president of Baylor University from 1861-63. LBJ was the second (and most recent) American president born in Texas, and his Baylor visit brought him to speak at Spring Commencement, where he was awarded an honorary doctor of law degree and recalled his mother’s immense pride in being the granddaughter of a Baylor president.
* Gerald Ford (1976): President Ford interacted with students in a personal way in his April 1976 visit to Baylor. He walked around the campus and met students and faculty along Speight Avenue, and participated in a lengthy Q&A session at Waco Hall. Before his remarks, he recognized legendary football coach Grant Teaff for his Baylor success; a former college football player himself, Ford had presented Coach Teaff with the Coach of the Year Award in 1974.
* Ronald Reagan (1988): President Reagan opened the then-brand new Ferrell Center with a campaign appearance just weeks before the 1988 election. His visit culminated years of planning for the Ferrell Center, and months of hard work to prepare for his visit, as this 1988 news clip shows. At the event, Reagan was presented with the Alumnus Honoris Causa, the highest award presented to non-alumni. (Watch the entire event in the video below.) The campaign rally actually marked Reagan’s second visit to Baylor; he also held a campaign rally at Waco Hall during his 1976 presidential bid.
* George W. Bush (2002, 2005): Perhaps due to his nearby home at the “Western White House” in Crawford, just outside Waco, President Bush is so far the only sitting president to visit Baylor twice during his time in the White House. He hosted the 2002 President’s Economic Forum at Baylor, which featured Vice President Dick Cheney and the largest gathering of his administration’s cabinet outside of Washington. Three years later, Baylor was the site for his meeting with the leaders of Mexico and Canada. Out of office, we still see him at the occasional Lady Bears game or Baylor football game.
* Barack Obama (2013): President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama came to Baylor in 2013 to honor the first responders who lost their lives in the West explosion in a moving memorial service. Thousands of mourners, including more than 4,000 uniformed first responders, came to the Ferrell Center to pay tribute. Before hosting the service, the Baylor family had spent more than a week rallying around and serving the people of West. President Obama said of West, “This small town’s family is bigger now… Today I see in the people of West, in your eyes, that what makes West special isn’t going to go away.”
Seven United States Presidents in less than 70 years — not bad for a little private school in Texas.
Sic ’em, U.S. Presidents!