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The Count: Hail to the Chief

In honor of President’s Day, brush up on your knowledge of AU’s most high-profile guests, from Clinton to Carter to Kennedy to both Roosevelts.

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President Bill Clinton spoke at American University on September 9, 1997.

The Count is a new This Week at AU feature.  

It was our nation’s most prominent founding father who posited the idea for a university in the Federal City.  

In a letter to Virginia governor Robert Brooke in 1795, Washington wrote that he could allocate shares of his Potomack Company to create a national university in the nation’s new capital. Nearly a century later, AU’s founder, Bishop John Fletcher Hurst, purchased Washington’s letter, carrying it with him during fundraising trips. The letter—the seed from which AU sprung—now resides in library’s Archives and Special Collections.  

In honor of President’s Day, here’s how US commanders in chief, former and sitting, have crossed paths with American University: 

  • 8 sitting presidents have visited AU. 

  • President John F. Kennedy’s 1963 commencement speech, the landmark “A Strategy of Peace,” was 27 typed pages long. 

President John F. Kennedy gave the commencement address in 1963.President John F. Kennedy spoke at AU's 1963 commencement with a speech called "A Strategy of Peace." 

  • President Bill Clinton commemorated AU’s 100th anniversary with a speech at a special convocation in February 1993.   

  • Joe Biden is perhaps AU’s most prolific presidential visitor; he came to campus 6 times before moving into the White House and also participated in the Washington Semester Program.  

  • Warren G. Harding was president for 3 months before giving the commencement address in 1921, the 1st sitting president to do so.  

  • Barack Obama visited AU 1 time as a presidential candidate and 3 times as president, making speeches on immigration and nuclear peace talks. 

  • President Theodore Roosevelt spoke just 155 words at the cornerstone laying ceremony on May 14, 1902.  

  • 6 years later, when Roosevelt addressed the Methodist General Conference—held on campus on May 16, 1908—his remarks checked in at 2,354 words. 

President Theodore Roosevelt addressed the general conference of the Methodist Church in 1908. President Theodore Roosevelt addressed the general conference of the Methodist Church in 1908. 

  • Led by former President Jimmy Carter, the Commission on Federal Election Reform, formed in the wake of the 2004 presidential election, made 87 recommendations in its 91-page report—work done at AU’s McDowell Hall and Bender Arena.  

  • A US president sat on the AU Board of Trustees for the university’s first 30 years. 

  • When George H.W. Bush served as vice president, he exercised on the track around the 74-foot by 117-foot playing surface of AU’s Reeves Field. 

  • 131 years ago, in 1892, President Benjamin Harrison signed the American University Act of Incorporation. AU was chartered by Congress 1 year later. 

  • 22 years later, in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson attended AU’s opening ceremony, praising the university’s mission to “emancipate the human mind.”

President Woodrow Wilson spoke at AU's opening in 1914. President Woodrow Wilson speaks at AU's opening in 1914.

Have an idea for the Count? Email editor Jonathan Heeter.