Trinity’s History of Presidental Plaques and Speeches: Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Carter and Mythology

4 min read

Savannah Brooks ’26

Managing Editor

Since we are now halfway through the fall semester, it is expected that the class of 2027 is entirely aware of an especially iconic spot on campus: the Roosevelt Plaque. Located in the middle of the long walk just beyond the Fuller Arch, the Roosevelt Plaque is perhaps the scariest part of campus. According to Trinity legend, if a current Trinity student steps on this plaque, they will not graduate (depending on who you ask, you either wiil not graduate at all or just will not graduate on time from Trinity). While many students dutifully avoid the plaque or spring to the Brownell statue if they do make the mistake of touching it (this method of avoiding the curse is not verified), they often don’t know the history of the plaque or even what it says.

The Latin inscription on the plaque reads “NE GLORIETUR ACCINCTUS AEQUE UT DISCINCTUS” below the letters TR-FSL with the Roman numerals MCMXVIII (1918) at the bottom. The initials refer to U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, the plaque’s namesake, and Flavel Sweeten Luther, Trinity’s 11th president. The Latin translates to: “One who puts on his armor should not boast like one who takes it off.” This quote is from the Old Testament, but it also serves as a reference to Roosevelt and his “big stick” ideology that he applied to matters of foreign policy. Roosevelt believed that if the U.S. had a large and intimidating military, there would never be any need to use it. The plaque now stands where Roosevelt stood in 1918 after being invited by Luther to give a speech to the Trinity community. Roosevelt, a staunch critic of then-President Woodrow Wilson, spoke on the subject of World War I and quoted the Old Testament passage now inscribed on the plaque. The plaque was installed in 1919 after Roosevelt’s death in January and, ever since 1974, Trinity tradition says that current students must not step on the plaque. On commencement day, Trinity graduates are expected to step on the plaque while proceeding as a reward for their hard work.

Roosevelt is not the only former president to visit Trinity, nor is he the only one with a plaque. President Dwight D. Eisenhower gave a speech on the main quad and was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Laws on October 20, 1954, during his presidency. Eisenhower’s visit is honored with a plaque next to the flagpole near the Chapel that Trinity students likely pass on their way to the Bistro or returning to their dorms from Vernon Street. Eisenhower’s plaque, written in Ancient Greek, reads “ΙΔΡΙΣ ΠΟΛΕΜΟΎ ΚΑΙ ΕΙΡΗΝΗΣ ΕΝΘΑΔΕ ΠΑΡΗΝ’’ and “ΚΑΤΑ ΞΕΝΙΑΝ” with the date of Eisenhower’s speech at the bottom. The Ancient Greek translates to “Knowledgeable in war and in peace, [he came] here on account of friendship,” referencing Eisenhower’s foreign policy during the Cold War as well as his time in the military during World War II. The plaque also sports two sets of initials adorning the outskirts: D.D.E, standing for Dwight D. Eisenhower, and A.C.J., standing for Albert C. Jacobs, Trinity’s president at the time and a friend of Eisenhower.

Since Eisenhower, one other U.S. president has given a speech at Trinity: Jimmy Carter. Carter, who recently turned 99, gave the keynote speech at the 1998 commencement ceremony. Then-Trinity president Evan Dobelle H’01 served as the U.S. Chief of Protocol and Assistant Secretary of State under the Carter administration. In his speech, Carter emphasized fighting against discrimination against America’s poor and discussed the importance of togetherness. He received a standing ovation at the end of his speech and was awarded an honorary degree by the College.

President Richard Nixon, or, rather, Vice President, visited the Chapel in 1960 nine years prior to the start of his presidency. He spent a short time at Trinity during a larger visit to Connecticut and mentioned in a speech given at the Bushnell that he always loved visiting college campuses. According to the Tripod, a freshman among the 250 students trying to greet him even gifted Nixon a 1964 beanie.

In its bicentennial year, Trinity’s campus is full of rich history and references to extraordinarily impactful historical figures. The next time you step on one of these plaques, whether because of a dare or for graduation, remember that you are standing where a president once stood (whether you consider this to be a good or bad thing). There is a lot to learn from these visits and these men, whether from their successes or pitfalls, and their legacy stands with us every time we head to a history class in Seabury or walk the long walk at the end of an even longer night (at the library or on Vernon Street).

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