The great state of Ohio is known for many things, one of which is its reputation for being a swing state. Being a swing state makes Ohio very important during election seasons, making its cities crucial destinations for politicians of all kinds to visit. Ohio University itself has a long history of politicians visiting its campus and speaking to students, faculty and community members. Most notably, many U.S. presidents have taken a trip to Athens to engage with the politically active campus.
Each presidential visit has not been forgotten. Along the West Portico wall, which faces College Green, of Templeton-Blackburn Alumni Memorial Auditorium there are plaques to commemorate each special visit. According to a story in a Compass newsletter from 2010, the addition of the plaques on the honor wall began in 1965 under then-university president Vernon Alden with the goal of the wall being an inspiration for all who see it.
On his visit in 1989, President Jimmy Carter made an inspiring sentiment and said, “Ohio University has a special place in international affairs. Its students should be world citizens.”
In his speech along the West Portico of Templeton-Blackburn in May 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson brought along several Ohio Congressmen and members of his Cabinet. President Johnson and his Cabinet members initially came to Athens for a poverty inspection. In his address, he said with the help of Dr. Alden, “a contract has been signed by the Area Redevelopment Administration to establish a regional development institution here. This will make Ohio University the focal point of economic development for the southeastern Ohio area.” Athens County has long been one of the poorest counties in Ohio, so action plans to grow the economic development of the area had a significant effect on its citizens. His speech was a call to action for students to do what they could to support those around them and raised awareness of the issue.
Other presidents who have visited OU include John F. Kennedy, William Taft, Theodore Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover, Warren G. Harding, William McKinley and Dwight D. Eisenhower.
The most recent president to visit OU was Barack Obama during his campaign for reelection on October 17, 2012. The trip was a last-minute stint to attract and rally supporters in the final sprint going into the campaign season. Massive government and military planes descended onto the back greens of South Green in preparation for the president’s arrival and Secret Service agents lined the permitter around College Green, where his speech took place. It was a unique experience for students to have a sitting president make an appearance on campus.
(Here is my super grainy picture of him.)
With another presidential election coming up within the next year, there is a good chance presidential hopefuls will see themselves visiting OU in an effort to appeal to the desired segment of young adult voters. Perhaps one day they too will have their name added to the West Portico Honor Wall.