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John F. Kennedy

“‘Every man,’ said Professor Woodrow Wilson, ‘sent out from a university should be a man of his nation as well as a man of his time.’

…Every great age is marked by innovation and daring–by the ability to meet unprecedented problems with intelligent solutions. In a time of turbulence and change, it is more true than ever that knowledge is power; for only by true understanding and steadfast judgment are we able to master the challenge of history.

If this is so, we must strive to acquire knowledge–and to apply it with wisdom. We must reject over-simplified theories of international life–the theory that American power is unlimited, or that the American mission is to remake the world in the American image. We must seize the vision of a free and diverse world–and shape our policies to speed progress toward a more flexible world order.

As we press forward on every front to realize a flexible world order, the role of the university becomes ever more important, both as a reservoir of ideas and as a repository of the long view of the shore dimly seen.

‘Knowledge is the great sun of the firmament,’ said Senator Daniel Webster. ‘Life and power are scattered with all its beams.’

In its light, we must think and act not only for the moment but for our time. I am reminded of the story of the great French Marshal Lyautey, who once asked his gardener to plant a tree. The gardener objected that the tree was slow-growing and would not reach maturity for a hundred years. The Marshal replied, ‘In that case, there is no time to lose, plant it this afternoon.’

Today a world of knowledge–a world of cooperation, a just and lasting peace–may be years away. But we have no time to lose. Let us plant our trees this afternoon.”

__________

From John F. Kennedy’s address at the University of California Berkley on March 23, 1962, which can be found in Ted Sorenson’s excellent collection Let the Word Go Forth: The Speeches, Statements, and Writings of John F. Kennedy 1947 to 1963.