“The terrace on which we stand, though recent in its construction, is rapidly becoming the most historic spot on campus.”
—Robert I. Gannon, S.J., president of Fordham University, May 19, 1942
President Harry S. Truman received an honorary degree from Fordham on Keating Terrace, now known as the Terrace of the Presidents, in 1946. He spoke about the need to support education and "master the science of human relationships" to build peace throughout the world. View newsreel footage of the ceremony and Truman’s speech courtesy of British Pathé.
On May 11, 1946, President Harry S. Truman received an honorary degree from Fordham University during a ceremony on the terrace of Keating Hall. Following the ceremony, which drew more than 6,000 people to the Rose Hill campus, Robert I. Gannon, S.J., then president of Fordham, rechristened the 19 steps above Edwards Parade the Terrace of the Presidents. In a tradition that continues today, the University also started carving into the steps the names of heads of state—from 20 different countries and four different continents—who have received honorary degrees from Fordham.
To date, the names of 38 world leaders are engraved on the terrace, including John F. Kennedy; Léopold Senghor, the first president of Senegal; Corazon Aquino, former president of the Philippines; and, most recently, Irish President Mary McAleese, who addressed Fordham graduates at the University’s 165th Commencement in May 2010.
“The world really needs the balancing intelligence of [women’s] genius,” the president of Ireland told the Class of 2010. She also cited the ties of compassion that bind the United States and Ireland, and praised the “selfless sacrifice and heroism embedded in this University from its earliest years.”
Here is a list by country of the heads of state whose names are engraved, literally and figuratively, in the University's history.
United States of America George Washington, 1781
In the summer of 1781, six decades before Fordham was founded as St. John’s College, General George Washington passed through what would later become the Rose Hill campus en route to the French and Continental armies’ “grand reconnaissance” of New York City to try to identify weak points in the British defenses. They decided not to try to recapture the city. Instead, they moved to Virginia, and the war was won at the ensuing battle of Yorktown.
To learn more, read “When Washington Stopped at Fordham” by Fordham Professors Allan Gilbert, Ph.D., and Roger Wines, Ph.D., initially published in the winter 2002 issue of FORDHAM magazine.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1940
Smiles abounded when FDR, the first sitting U.S. president to visit Fordham, rode up to the steps of Keating Hall with Father Gannon (center) at his side on Oct. 28, 1940, one week before he was elected to the third term as president. The event turned serious, however, when Roosevelt reviewed Fordham’s ROTC regiment. Earlier that day, Italy had invaded Greece. In little more than a year, the United States would enter World War II.
Harry S. Truman, 1946
Before addressing the Fordham community, President Harry S. Truman rang the Victory Bell (above) outside the Rose Hill Gymnasium. The bell was salvaged from the Japanese aircraft carrier Junyo and presented to Fordham by Admiral Chester W. Nimitz as a memorial to “Our Dear Young Dead of World War II.”
John F. Kennedy, 1958 “As your newest alumnus, I wish to deny emphatically that I have any presidential aspirations—with respect to the Fordham Alumni Association,” then Senator Kennedy said after receiving an honorary degree from Laurence J. McGinley, S.J., president of Fordham, at the Fordham Law Association luncheon on Feb. 15, 1958. Kennedy said he was honored to become an alumnus of an institution that has “never maintained its neutrality in moments of great moral crisis.”
Richard M. Nixon, 1959
Richard Nixon visited the Rose Hill campus not once but twice in the years leading up to his 1960 presidential run against John F. Kennedy. He received an honorary degree from Fordham in 1959 as vice president, and, later that year, addressed the Fordham community at the invitation of the Student Government of Fordham College as part of a series of lectures focusing on the national election.
ARGENTINA Arturo Frondizi, 1959
AUSTRIA Leopold Figl, 1952
Austrian Chancellor Leopold Figl, who was imprisoned for five years in the Dachau concentration camp, praised Fordham for “maintaining the highest moral standards for the building of character for successive generations.”
Alfons Gorbach, 1962
BOLIVIA Enrique Penaranda, 1943
BOTSWANA Seretse Khama, 1965
“Our people are tolerant and sensible enough to discount the accident of man’s color.” During his address to the Fordham community in October 1965, Sereste Khama, the first president-elect of Botswana (formerly Bechuanaland), stressed the racial harmony of his country, which “stand[s] virtually alone in Southern Africa in our belief that a non-racial society can work.”
BRAZIL Eurico Gasper Dutra, 1949
CHILE Gabriel Gonzalez Videla, 1959
The Chilean government contributed money to Fordham in the University’s earliest days, a largesse recalled and celebrated by Fordham President Laurence J. McGinley, S.J., when he conferred an honorary degree on Chilean President Gabriel Gonzalez Videla in April 1959. “The number of Chileans who have passed through our halls is not small,” McGinley said, “and they left us proofs of extraordinary talent, and the remembrance of our sons, now far away, is for us a consolation and a satisfaction.”
DOMINICAN REPUBLIC Leonel Fernandez, 2008
The president of the Dominican Republic visited Fordham in September 2008. He told the 500-plus members of the University community who filled Keating First Auditorium that he wants to make his country a model of democracy in the Latin American world.
HAITI Paul E. Magliore, 1959
After receiving an honorary degree from Fordham in February 1955, the president of Haiti (center) paid tribute to the University for “the citizens you are forming intellectually and morally, who will put to the service of all humanity the solid knowledge they have acquired within these walls.”
IRELAND John Aloysius Costello, 1948
Sean T. O’Kelly, 1959
Mary Robinson, 1995
The woman who preceded Mary McAleese as president of Ireland received an honorary and delivered the keynote address at the University’s 155th Commencement in May 1995.
Mary McAleese, 2010
ITALY Alcide de Gasper, 1951
Mario Scelba, 1955
Gaetano Martino, 1955
PERU Manuel Prado, 1942
The president of Peru expressed his gratitude via telegram after visiting Fordham in May 1942.
PARAGUAY Higinio Mopingo, 1949
PHILIPPINES Elpidio Quirino, 1949
Ramon Magsaysay, 1952
Carlos Garcia, 1958
Diosdado Macapagal, 1964
Corazon Aquino, 1986
When the president of the Philippines (left) visited Fordham in September 1986, soon after leading the nonviolent People Power Revolution that restored democracy in her country, an estimated 5,000 Filipino Americans came to Rose Hill to hear her speak. “I wish to thank you,” she said, “for being part of People Power and Prayer Power, even though you were 10,000 miles away.”
Fidel V. Ramos, 1993
POLAND Wladyslaw Raczkiewicz, 1943
Lech Walesa, 1984
“I regard the doctorate which I have the privilege of receiving as due not so much to my personal merits, but rather as a gesture of support for the ideals of NSZZ 'Solidarnosc' and its peaceful struggle on behalf of mankind’s right to a better life, an inspiration by many people.”
In 1984, Fordham broke with tradition and awarded an honorary degree in absentia to Lech Walesa, then leader of the outlawed Solidarity labor union, who was prohibited from leaving Poland by the country’s Communist-controlled government. Fittingly, the only other time the University made such an exception was in 1943, when it granted an honorary degree in absentia to Wladyslaw Rackiewicz, the exiled president of Poland. Rackiewicz was honored at a ceremony in which Fordham symbolically adopted the Catholic University of Lublin, which was under Nazi occupation at the time.
Léopold Sedar Senghor, 1961
The first president of Senegal (right) was one of Africa’s seminal statesmen, a respected poet, professor and intellectual. He visited Fordham in November 1961.