Sunday, June 19, 2011

Ronald Reagan Trail: Returning to Eureka College and the 1982 address

The Eureka College web site says that President Reagan returned to his alma mater a dozen times after he graduated in 1932. He served three six-year terms on the Eureka board of trustees, after he retired from that post, his brother Neil, who graduated in 1933, served three terms as well. The Gipper's daughter Maureen was also a board member, and the president's sons, Michael and Ron, are regular visitors to the campus. Last year Nancy Reagan received an honorary doctorate from Eureka.

Reagan Peace Garden
His most prominent visits were the 1957 Eureka graduation, where he received an honorary doctorate on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of his own commencement, and in 1982, while president, he addressed Eureka graduates--the golden anniversary of receiving his diploma. Dutch enjoyed a laugh about that honorary degree during the second speech. "That time I informed those assembled," Reagan quipped, "while I was grateful for the honor, it added to a feeling of guilt I'd been nursing for 25 years because I always figured that the first degree they gave me was honorary."

"Even now I wonder," the C student continued, "what I might have accomplished if I'd studied harder."

But it wasn't all laughs at his Eureka address

From the Eureka Reagan Museum
"Everything that is good in my life began here."

In '82 Reagan was hoping to meet the ailing leader of the Soviet Union, Leonid Brezhnev, who passed away later that year. "I'll tell him that his government and his people have nothing to fear from the United States, Reagan told the graduates. "The free nations living at peace in the world community can vouch for the fact that we seek only harmony. And I'll ask President Brezhnev why our two nations can't practice mutual restraint. Why can't our peoples enjoy the benefits that would flow from real cooperation? Why can't we reduce the number of horrendous weapons? "

On the Reagan Trail,
Princeton, IL
Brezhnev and Eureka weren't separate thoughts for Reagan that day. "Perhaps I should also speak to him of this school and these graduates who are leaving it today — of your hopes for the future, of your deep desire for peace, and yet your strong commitment to defend your values if threatened," Reagan asserted. "Perhaps if he someday could attend such a ceremony as this, he'd better understand America. In the only system he knows, you would be here by the decision of government, and on this day the government representatives would be here telling most, if not all, of you where you were going to report to work tomorrow."

Two posts back in this series I devoted an entry to Carl Sandburg. Reagan lived briefly in Galesburg, Sandburg's hometown. "In our 1931 Prism [Eureka's yearbook], we quoted Carl Sandburg, who in his own beautiful way quoted the Mother Prairie, saying, 'Have you seen a red sunset drip over one of my cornfields, the shore of night stars, the wave lines of dawn up a wheat valley?' What an idyllic scene that paints in our minds — and what a nightmarish prospect that a huge mushroom cloud might someday destroy such beauty. "My duty as president." Reagan vowed, "is to ensure that the ultimate nightmare never occurs, that the prairies and the cities and the people who inhabit them remain free and untouched by nuclear conflict."

Brezhnev never made it to Eureka, but Mikhail Gorbachev visited in 2009, as you'll in a Peoria Journal Star video.

Eureka is Greek for "I have found it." Gorbachev asked the school's president if it was the original name for the school, when told it was, he replied, "It's a good name for a college." The last Soviet leader paid his respects at the Reagan Peace Garden, which includes a segment of the Berlin Wall. In 1987, Reagan famously declared, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall."

Section of the Berlin Wall,
Reagan Peace Garden
Reagan ended his commencement address with a promise, "Eureka as an institution and you as individuals are sustaining the best of Western man's ideals." he said, "As a fellow graduate and in the office I hold, I'll do my best to uphold these same ideals."

Next: Reagan museum

Earlier posts:

Technorati tags:

Reagan and Gorbachev: How the Cold War Ended (Google Affiliate Ad)

No comments: