President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Knoxville and East Tennessee today is generating plenty of excitement, but it’s not the first time a president or vice president has stopped in the area—or even visited the UT campus.
UT Libraries Archivist Alesha Shumar scanned historical files and found several reports of US presidents and vice presidents visiting campus over the years.
Here’s a look at some of those past presidential visits:
Woodrow Wilson, 1890
President Wilson gave a commencement speech at UT in 1890.
“The UT speech was a slight revision of a successful lecture given many times before,” according to a document from the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum archives. “In the next day’s Knoxville Journal, journalists reported that Wilson delivered an excellent oration for over an hour and a half to a fully entranced crowd. The speech itself is an excellent example of Wilson’s high level of academic accomplishment and reveals the early thoughts of Wilson as he builds his political career.”
Mentions of this visit can be found at the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum blog and the commencement program can be viewed in the UT Libraries Digital Collections.
Lyndon B. Johnson, 1964
The Torchbearer reported that President Johnson visited campus on May 7, 1964. He was greeted by then-UT president Andy Holt and made a brief talk to students and faculty gathered near the University Center.
More details about Johnson’s visit can be found in the UT Libraries Digital Collections.
President Nixon made a brief appearance on the UT campus on May 28, 1970, during a Billy Graham crusade in Neyland Stadium, to ask for the full support of American policy after the bombing of Cambodia. His visit sparked a protest on campus.
Read about those events in The Volunteer Yearbook archives.
Ronald Reagan, 1985
“The president paid a whirlwind visit to the campus September 24, 1985, to attend a session on interaction between higher education and the private sector, with an emphasis on high technology transferal to industry,” Alumnus magazine reported. “President Reagan’s appearance was preceded by the noisy onrush of the national news media, who with tripods, still and video cameras, notepads and recorders, perhaps attracted more attention than the chief executive. Well-known television correspondents Sam Donaldson, Leslie Stahl, Chris Wallace, and Helen Thomas were a show unto themselves. Stahl wrote letters during the briefing, while Donaldson and Wallace joked and laughed, Thomas railed against some lesser correspondent who dared use ‘her’ telephone among the thirty or so set up for the media.”
Read the full account in the Tennessee Alumnus archive.
Already a former president, Ford attended an MBA symposium at UT on October 16, 1985.
George H. W. Bush, 1990
President Bush and then-secretary of education Lauro F. Cavazos joined students in a discussion on February 2, 1990, at UT. During the visit, it was announced that $3 million was being made available to start a four-week summer school for 200 of the state’s top math and science teachers.
Vice presidential visits
Several vice presidents also have visited the UT campus over the years. Among those:
Vice President Cheney participated in a ceremonial groundbreaking for the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy on November 15, 2005. The occasion also marked Baker’s eightieth birthday.
Cheney, then-Tennessee governor Phil Bredesen, US Senator Lamar Alexander, and US Representative John Duncan spoke during the program.
Cheney, who had known Baker for more than three decades, said, “It’s more than fitting that such a center be named for a great son of Tennessee, because all who look for the best qualities in that system, and for the highest standards of integrity and public service, will find it in the life of Howard Henry Baker Jr.”
An account of the event can be found in Tennessee Today.
Former vice president Gore came to campus on May 14, 2010, to receive an Honorary Doctor of Laws and Humane Letters in ecology and evolutionary biology and speak at the College of Arts and Sciences commencement ceremony.
Gore’s comments focused on climate change and how graduates were in a position to help turn things around.
“I believe in my heart that we are going to solve this crisis,” he told them. “I believe that this is the greatest opportunity that our society has ever had. And I’m excited about the fact that from this day forward you’re going to be a part of all of the great work our society is doing.”
Details of Gore’s visit can be found in Tennessee Today.
Amy Blakely (865-974-5034, firstname.lastname@example.org)