Jesuit Ivy  (1956) 
by John F. Kennedy

This address was given by Massachusetts Senator John F. Kennedy at the Boston College commencement exercises in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts on 26 June 1956.

I am deeply honored at being admitted to the ranks of the alumni of this great university. Boston College has played a most important part in the life of this country and carries on a distinguished and ancient tradition of Jesuit education.

Boston College produces men who, whatever their fields of endeavor, become leaders. I do not mean leaders in the narrow sense of personal success. This great school, guided by dedicated religious and lay teachers, was not established merely to give its graduates an advantage in the life struggle. No, the object here as you well know is far more complex. The first thought of course is towards the City of God, but there is also cognizance of our obligations to the City of Man. I would like to emphasize today the civil obligations you have today towards the government of this City of Man.

I do not mean by this that it is necessary that all of you should take up politics or government as a career, though that may be appropriate for many of you, I hope, if by temperament and opportunity you should feel equipped and inclined.

But I would like to emphasize the obligation of all who have had the benefit of your training, to assume their proportionate share of the burden of self-government. The phrase "self-government" seems so far removed from us that we tend unconsciously in our minds to divide ourselves into two groups, the governors and the governed.

In spite of the elaborate solar system of local, state, and national units of government that encircle our lives, most of us tend to regard ourselves as the objects of governmental policy and not the makers. This state of mind has resulted in the feeling of great uninterest and faint distaste with which so many Americans view the governmental process. We tend to look with disfavor at a political structure which seems to emphasize party and factional disputes, where compromise runs rampant, where indirection seems to have become the shortest distance between two points. but, to look at the political process in this superficial fashion is misleading; it is like looking at an anthill as merely a bit of sand and failing to see that it is the cover for a whole labyrinth of life.

The important thing to remember is that your uninterest in politics will not mean that the various tasks will not be dome; they will be done, and usually in a way unsatisfactory to you. There are a great many Americans who do take an intense interest in politics; they recognize that at stake is control of the most powerful and richest country on earth. It is governed by one of two political parties; if a group or a combination of interests can master the parties or can become a dominant influence in one of them, the stakes are well worthwhile.

Thus, underneath the clash of personalities, the serious struggles go on. In city halls, in state houses, in the nation's Capitol, struggling groups, labor, business, agriculture and all the infinite subdivisions within each group contend; all bringing the maximum pressure to bear on the party, the politician, and the administration.

Never before in our history has there been a greater need for men of integrity and courage in the public service. Never before in our history has there been a greater need for the people to take up willingly the responsibility of free government. Certainly you as educated Catholics are committed to bear your share of the burden, for the philosophy that you have been taught here at Boston College is needed in the solution of the problems we face. As graduates of the Jesuit Ivy, facing war and peace, with the fate of Western civilization hanging in the balance, the somber question indeed of the survival of our Faith and country at stake, each man among you can afford to answer that call to service.

High on the wall of the House of Representatives in Washington, above the Speaker's chair so that everyone can see, are written words we should remember. They were from a speech by a distinguished Senator from our native Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Daniel Webster, who said "Let us develop the resources of our land, call forth its powers, build up its institutions, and promote all its great interests and see whether we, in our day and generation, may not perform something worthy to be remembered."

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).