Title: Address at the Commencement at Georgetown University
Date: June 9, 1924
Location: Washington, DC
Context: Coolidge delivers an address on the application of education in the world beyond college at the 1924 commencement of Georgetown University.
Recently the statement appeared somewhere in current print that a greater number of young men and women than ever before would receive diplomas this month from American colleges and universities. Whether this statement had been authenticated or was but a good and probably correct conjecture, I do not know. At any rate, we may be sure that the number of graduates will far exceed the most adventurous estimate that might have been made a few years ago. This result in itself is most significant.
But the mere fact that the number of college graduates is unprecedented does not suggest the most striking occasion for satisfaction. To most people, it may be ventured, a large significance will be found in another current statement which claims that every year sees an increasing number of people able to work their way through college.
This means not only that the ambition for education is more widely disseminated, but that economic conditions are increasingly favorable to the student who is moved by that ambition. Doubtless among those who are today receiving their diplomas here are a number who are thus reaping the reward of their energy and enterprise.
To them, and to the thousands of others throughout the land to whom this commencement season brings this special satisfaction, I want to express particular congratulations. No student who has been more fortunately situated will begrudge the measure of added recognition to those who are reaping the reward of such effort.
Perhaps there are somewhere geniuses of originality, capable of speaking before a graduating class and refraining from offering advice. I should be proud and pleased to count myself among so rare and limited a company, and have no doubt the members of this class would be even more pleased. But, in acknowledging my inability thus to qualify, let me hasten at least to add that I shall make my admonitions brief.
We have all known people who were disposed to view with concern the rapid advance of education. They fear that when everybody is assured a measure of general education, nobody will be left to look after the less agreeable tasks which must always be performed. Fortunately such misgivings have never been justified by the event.
The advancement of intelligence has been marked by a continual elimination or amelioration of the more undesirable tasks. Just about the time when it is found that there is a shortage of workers willing to do unpleasant things, somebody with a trained intelligence discovers a process or invents a machine that performs the task more efficiently, or makes its performance unnecessary. This has happened so many times that it seems safe to assume it will keep on happening.
If there remain some undesirable tasks that neither science nor invention can eliminate, a more productive society will at least be able to pay more liberally–in fact, is now doing so–and thus get them done.
Such a continuing elimination of the uncomfortable tasks, of course, means a corresponding increase in human happiness. But this will not be possible unless intellectual progress keeps step with the demand for higher, scientific and social capabilities. That is why the progress of education must always be a primary concern for us.
The market for trained intelligence will never be overstocked.
We hear of a possible saturation point in the demand for particular products, but there will never be a saturation point, a danger of overproduction, in good, working, capable brains. It may be that our educational methods are not so far perfected as to give us full returns on all our investments in them. No doubt some expensive college educations are invested in people incapable of making them return a going rate of interest. But that need not greatly worry us.
The world keeps on increasing its wealth despite a great deal of bad investment and sheer waste. No doubt it will keep on growing wiser if it continues to extend its educational processes, even though some mistakes mark the effort.
The young men and women who get college and university degrees this year will find the world ready to give them a warmer welcome, a larger share in its tasks, than ever before. They will find it more tolerant than it ever has been toward the presumption that they are exceptionally equipped to be useful to it. It will not be fooled seriously or long by any who are not prepared to measure up to its requirements, but it is going to demand more from those to whom it has been generous.
In a somewhat rough and elemental fashion the world has a way of stumbling on a remarkably just appraisal of people who apply for its good jobs. It is enthusiastic for people who want to work for it, and who do not specify too many conditions. It will be found a bit cold toward persons who insist on tall and stiff collars as part of the working uniform–whether such collars are of the intellectual type for the mind or of the linen type for the neck.
It has little use for those who are too nice to work.
The young people who this year step out of college into the world of affairs will be participants in a most engrossing epoch of history. There will be no dull moments for them, providing they live up to their opportunities. They are due to witness and to play some part in a mighty and increasingly rapid spectacle of human events.
Men and women are in demand who can prove themselves capable of playing in a big and useful way the different parts. There will not be applause and recognition for all–not even for all who do their parts well. But there will be for these the only true rewards, the satisfaction which follows sincere effort; the consciousness of bearing a part in a great movement for the betterment of society and the advance of humanity.
The graduates of our higher institutions of learning have been mentally well equipped to take their part. If they shall fail it won’t be through lack of intelligence. Their success will be measured by the method with which they apply themselves. It will depend upon whether they choose the solid and substantial things and put their trust in the realities of life. It won’t be so much a question of what they know as of how they use what they know. They cannot meet the problems in life unless they have a foundation of character, and unless they are inspired by a moral purpose.
It is necessary to be active and energetic and courageous, but it is necessary likewise to have humility. It is necessary to have knowledge and experience and wisdom, and keep the mind open for new truths; but it is necessary likewise to have abiding religious convictions.
I would not venture to say what our country needs most from its educated young men and women. But one of its urgent needs is a greater spirit of loyalty, which can only come from reverence for constituted authority, from faith in the things that are.
There must be loyalty to the family; loyalty to the various civic organizations of society; loyalty to the Government, which means first of all the observance of its laws, and loyalty to religion. These are fundamental virtues. They are the chief characteristics of faith.
If education has not given that clearer insight into all that touches our life, whether it come from our relationship to the physical world or our relationship to mankind, it will be a disappointment and a failure. If it has given that insight, it will be a success; it will be the source of that power through which alone has been, and can be, “wrought many wonderful works.”
Citation: The New York Times, June 10, 1924.