7 Famous Speeches Delivered on College Campuses ...


One of the many differences between the UK and the US that occurred to me recently is that the US can boast a number of famous speeches delivered on college campuses. We’ve had many great orators in Britain through the ages and I don’t think any of them have had students as their audience. There is some kudos in being invited to address the Oxford Union, and the list of notables who have done this in the past includes US presidents, UK Prime Ministers, foreign heads of state, religious leaders and luminaries from the worlds of art, music, entertainment and the sciences. I think this is the only thing that comes close to famous speeches delivered on college campuses and here are some of the most memorable.

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John F. Kennedy, Rice University, Sept. 12, 1962

A number of the most famous speeches delivered on college campuses have been delivered by US presidents. This speech by JFK is famous for a number of reasons. This is where Kennedy famously said ‘we choose to go to the moon in this decade.’ His remark of ‘…not because they are easy but because they are hard’ is a symbol of the American way and how the nation has encountered the challenges facing the human civilization. More than 50 years later, we can clearly see that it was Kennedy’s vision and strength of character that made America achieve the targets that seemed impossible at that time.


Steve Jobs, Stanford Commencement, June 12, 2005

Steve Jobs is the man who took on the might of personal computers and posed challenges for it almost single-handedly. Even PC fans today admire him for his work ethics and innovation. The creator of Apple discussed numerous life events during one of the most famous speeches made on campus, including how he dropped out and lost his love. If you ever need inspiration to advance your career, this go-to speech will make you believe that indeed nothing is impossible.


Ronald Reagan, Moscow State University, May 31, 1988

One of the famous speeches delivered on college campuses by US presidents took place on foreign soil. Though the icy days of the cold war were already behind us, Reagan’s invitation to speak at the Moscow State University brought back some memories of the era, especially when Reagan had used every opportunity to bad mouth the Soviet Union. However, Reagan used the speech to deliver a message to the Soviet students that has become a great part of both countries’ histories and is definitely one of the most famous college campus speeches ever. Speaking to the youth of the Soviet Union, Reagan praised the American values and told the people how every single American town was ringing with the bells of freedom.


Lyndon Johnson, University of Michigan Commencement, May 22, 1964

Lyndon B. Johnson had to speak at the ’64 graduation ceremony of the University of Michigan because of President Kennedy’s assassination. He used the speech to unveil his plan of ‘the Great Society.’ That historic speech laid the foundations of many social programs that still benefit the American public today. Some of these programs include Medicare and Medicaid, while groundbreaking laws such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were also initiated through this famous speech.


Stokely Carmichael, UC Berkeley, Oct. 29, 1966

Carmichael has not been given the status that he deserves because of his role in the civil rights movement. It was during this speech at UC Berkeley that he famously said that ‘… we are not going to wait for white people to sanction Black Power…’ Although he’d used this phrase several times prior to this occasion, it was the power of delivery, and the fact that it was to an audience of all white students that cemented the motto Black Power in the consciousness and its association with civil rights.


George C. Marshall, Harvard University, June 5, 1947

Marshall was the architect of the plan to help Europe rebuild after the devastation of World War II. He won the Nobel Prize for the Marshall Plan, however few know that it was during this speech at Harvard that Marshall laid down the foundations of the plan, which later became government policy. Seeing what Europe has achieved over the decades immediately following the war, this speech certainly goes down as one of the most famous college campus speeches in history.


Mahatma Gandhi, Banaras Hindu University, Feb. 4, 1916

Obviously with taking place in 1916, there is no video available for this actual speech, but you can read a transcript here: gandhi-manibhavan.org. Although this speech did not take place in America, it is so momentous it deserves its place among the great speeches delivered on college campuses. Mahatma Gandhi was a man of extreme modesty but the small man’s speech at the Banaras Hindu University (known as Benares in English) stirred a movement that is undoubtedly the most significant in India’s history. Dressed in just a white cloak and a turban, he asked the rich people of India to put away their ornaments and hold them in trust for their fellow citizens. Though the words stirred a commotion among the listeners, they did set the foundation of India’s campaign for independence from Britain.

It must have been quite something to have been a student in the audience for these speeches. I wonder if they knew then just how impactful the words they were hearing would be? Have you ever heard an amazing speech? Who delivered it and where?

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