looking back

Albert Einstein and Frank Aydelotte, standing together wearing commencement regalia. Einstein is holding a commencement program. In the background is a student (Eugene Lang) sitting in a chair.
Friends Historical Library

It’s not uncommon for famous figures to pop up at Swarthmore’s Commencement ceremonies, including Nobel Peace Prize winners (Jane Addams in 1932), renowned artists (Andrew Wyeth in 1958), and sitting U.S. presidents (Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964).

Just last year, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, made a surprise appearance in the virtual celebration, encouraging the Class of 2020 to unite in helping society overcome its challenges, including COVID-19.

But perhaps the most recognizable face to grace a College graduation was Albert Einstein, at left with Swarthmore President Frank Aydelotte (and a young Eugene Lang ’38, H’81 in the background). The legendary physicist addressed the 156 members of the Class of 1938 a year before the start of World War II.

“Moral conduct does not mean merely a stern demand to renounce some of the desired joys of life, but rather a social interest in a happier lot for all,” Einstein told the graduates, according to a Phoenix article from June 6, 1938.

To achieve this, Einstein added, everyone should have the opportunity to develop their own personal gifts, because “everything that is really great is created by the individual who can labor in freedom.”