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SDSU Marks 50th Anniversary of JFK Speech

Kennedy’s 1963 visit will be commemorated on April 23 with a speech reenactment, a historical analysis and the dedication of a new plaque.
SDSU awarded its first honorary doctorate degree to President John F. Kennedy in 1963.
SDSU awarded its first honorary doctorate degree to President John F. Kennedy in 1963.

50th Anniversary of JFK Speech

AS Executive officers hold the new plaque commemorating JFK's visit to SDSU
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AS Executive officers hold the new plaque commemorating JFK's visit to SDSU
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More than 30,000 people gathered to hear former President John F. Kennedy speak at San Diego State University’s commencement ceremony in 1963, where he was awarded SDSU’s first honorary doctorate degree.

On April 23, the university is hosting an event to celebrate the 50th anniversary of that historic day.

"The awarding of an honorary doctorate to John F. Kennedy was a seminal moment in our university's history," said SDSU President Elliot Hirshman.

"In retrospect, the awarding of our first doctorate symbolizes the dramatic  development of our campus's academic mission from our campus's expansion to the growth of research and graduate programs that has occurred during the last 50 years."

The event will include remarks by Hirshman as well as a historical perspective from Anthropology Department Chair Seth Mallios and a reenactment of portions of Kennedy’s speech by Associated Students executive officers Rob O’Keefe, Chanelle McNutt and Tom Rivera.

"I believe Kennedy's visit to SDSU was the most important event in the institution's history, and that the speech he gave at the 1963 commencement was one of his finest," said Mallios. 

The ceremony will also include the unveiling of a new plaque commemorating Kennedy’s visit the original plaque was stolen in 2008 and was never recovered. The plaque will be placed in the same location as the original, on a granite monument at the base of the former Aztec Bowl, where Kennedy’s helicopter took off.

Making history

Kennedy’s visit to SDSU was the first in the university’s history by a president in office. The honorary doctorate he received was also the first ever presented by the California State University.

Since then, SDSU has awarded 36 honorary doctorates to local, national and international figures. The university just announced that former San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders and Linda Lang, chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Jack in the Box Inc., will be honored during SDSU’s 2013 commencement.

Anniversary event details

The Kennedy Anniversary event, which is free and open to the public, will take place at 12:30 p.m. on April 23 in L Lot (formerly the Aztec Bowl). Free parking will be available in Parking Structure 4.

Student symposium

A student symposium which centers on the legacies and meanings of Kennedy’s 1963 commencement address will also be held on April 23.

SDSU students submitted essays on key themes from Kennedy’s address including racial and economic inequality; why education matters and deserves public commitment; and what responsibilities we hold for our fellow citizens.
Essay contest winners will receive $50 and a signed copy of Mallios’ “Hail Montezuma: The Hidden Treasures of San Diego State.”

The symposium, which is hosted by Mallios, is scheduled from 9:30 to 10:45 a.m. at the Parma Payne Goodall Alumni Center and is free and open to the public. 

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