On Friday, Oct. 15, 2021, President Joe Biden becomes just the second sitting chief executive of the United States to visit the University of Connecticut. But three different men who have held the office have paid visits to Storrs over the years, including one repeat guest. In an odd coincidence, today’s date seems to be particularly fortuitous when it comes to White House visitors at UConn: two of the four previous presidential events have taken place on October 15. Here are the highlights of those moments when UConn hosted current and former leaders of the free world:
Gerald Ford: Sept. 23, 1986
The 38th President of the United States was the first person to hold that office and pay a visit to UConn.
Ten years out from his time in office, Ford was in a relaxed and cheerful mood, delivering a speech to a packed Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts and then spending 30 minutes taking unscreened audience questions. During his remarks, he called on the Reagan administration to apply pressure to the government of Israel to resolve the ongoing war in Lebanon and on the government of South Africa to end the racist apartheid policies that had made it the target of global boycotts.
Ford also laughed about the famous Saturday Night Live portrayals of him as a clumsy figure of fun.
“I knew I was a fairly decent athlete, and most of those critics were much less capable,” said Ford, a star linebacker on two national champion University of Michigan football teams in the 1930s. “I enjoy a good laugh.”
Bill Clinton: Oct. 15, 1995
The first time a sitting president came to UConn was on the occasion of the original dedication of the Dodd Center, which was then named for former U.S. Sen. Thomas Dodd, who had been a prosecutor at the Nuremberg war crimes trials following World War II. Clinton, then in his first of two terms, mentioned that previous presidents had sorely missed out by not visiting UConn, and praised the UConn women’s basketball team, which had won its first NCAA championship that spring.
“Dedicating this research center today, we remember that when the Nazis came to power, one of the very first things they did was burn books they deemed subversive,” the 42nd president said. “The road to tyranny, we must never forget, begins with the destruction of the truth.”
George H.W. Bush: May 17, 1998
The 41st president, with longstanding family ties to Connecticut (his father, Prescott Bush, was a U.S. Senator from Connecticut serving alongside Thomas Dodd), became the first U.S. president to address a UConn commencement. Speaking at Gampel Pavilion, Bush noted that 1998 was the 50th anniversary of his own graduation from “down the road” – meaning Yale. Speaking to the graduates, Bush struck a hopeful tone in his remarks.
“As we move into the next millennium, this great class has a shot at a world that is far more peaceful and much more prosperous, and much freer and much more democratic, than the world that greeted the Class of 1898, or the Class of 1948,” he said.
Bill Clinton: Oct. 15, 2015
Exactly 20 years after his first visit, Clinton returned to UConn in 2015 to receive the Thomas J. Dodd Prize, along with Tostan, an Africa-based human rights group. Speaking to a full house at the Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts, Clinton told the crowd that human rights is a cause that anyone can join.
“Sometimes the empowerment of people to help themselves is the most important thing you can do,” he said. “You all have the power to be soldiers for human rights. I urge you to use that power.”