Anvil or Hammer: President John F. Kennedy at Kenan Stadium, 1961

Kennedy receives an honorary degree from UNC-Chapel Hill from UNC system president Bill Friday (left) and UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor William Aycock (right). Image from the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.On October 12, 1961, President John F. Kennedy, ten months into his 1,000 days in office, spoke to a crowd of 30,000 at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill.

The occasion was University Day, the annual observance of the founding of the University of North Carolina in 1795. His remarks echoed his inaugural address:

I ask you to give to the service of our country the critical faculties which society has developed in you here, I ask you to decide whether you will be, as Goethe put it, an anvil or a hammer.

Two days before the event, UNC President Bill Friday learned that only 10,000 people were expected to attend. He called principals in a wide radius encouraging them to offer their students a rare chance to see a President. A capacity audience turned out.

Kennedy at the podium in Kenan Stadium. Image from UNC-Chapel Hill.Joining Kennedy and Friday on the platform were Governor Terry Sanford and federal Commerce Secretary Luther Hodges, a former governor himself. As the ceremony concluded, a child approached the President, asking for an autograph. Kennedy borrowed a fountain pen from Friday, then absentmindedly pocketed it.

A bystander who observed the theft later wrote the White House and Kennedy returned the pen to Friday with a humorous note of apology.

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