John F. Kennedy

John F. Kennedy

John F. Kennedy on planting trees of knowledge

As we press forward on every front to realize a flexible world order, the role of the university becomes even 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 along its beams.”

[audio:/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/john_f_kennedy-charter_day_address-university_of_california-berkeley-california-1962_03_23-detail-001.mp3|titles=John F. Kennedy in his Charter Day address at the University of California, Berkeley (Memorial Stadium, Berkeley, California: March 23, 1962)]

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.
John F. Kennedy in his address at the University of California, Berkeley Charter Day (Memorial Stadium, Berkeley, California: March 23, 1962). Available in Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: John F. Kennedy; containing the public messages, speeches, and statements of the President, 1961-1963, Volume 1, (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1962), p. 266. Complete audio recording available at The University of Virginia Miller Center of Public Affairs.

Related Quotation

A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.
— Greek Proverb

John F. Kennedy on challenging inherited perspectives

As every past generation has had to disenthrall itself from an inheritance of truisms and stereotypes, so in our time we must move on from the reassuring repetition of stale phrases to a new, difficult, but essential confrontation with reality.

For the great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie—deliberate, contrived and dishonest—but the myth—persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic. Too often we hold fast to the clich├ęs of our forebears. We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.


John F. Kennedy in his Yale University commencement address (New Haven, Connecticut: June 11, 1962), 5:10-6:08. Complete audio recording available at American Rhetoric (MP3). Cited in part as the Quotation of the Day for August 2, 2007.