John F. Kennedy (1917-63) was the second son of a prominent Boston political family.
He was decorated in the Pacific war, elected as a Democratic congressman and then
senator for Massachusetts, and won a close election race against Richard Nixon in 1960
to become the 35th President of the United States. He was assassinated in 1963.
Speech delivered by John F. Kennedy, on September 13, 1962
President Pitzer [of Rice University], Mr. Vice President, Governor, Congressman
Thomas, Senator Wiley, and Congressman Miller, Mr. Webb, Bell scientists,
distinguished guests, and ladies and gentlemen.
I appreciate your president having made me an honorary visiting professor and I will
assure you that my first lecture will be very brief.
I am delighted to be here and I'm particularly delighted to be here on this occasion. We
meet at a college noted for knowledge, in a city noted for progress, in a State noted for
strength. And we stand in need of all three.
For we meet in an hour of change and challenge, in a decade of hope and fear; in an age
of both knowledge and ignorance. The greater our knowledge increases the greater our
Despite the striking fact that most of the scientists that the world has ever known are alive
and working today, despite the fact that this Nation's own scientific manpower is
doubling every 12 years in a rate of growth more than three times that of our population
as a whole, despite that, the vast stretches of the unknown and the unanswered and the
unfinished still far outstrip our collective comprehension.
No man can fully grasp how far and how fast we have come, but condense, if you will,
the 50,000 years of man's recorded history in a timespan of but half a century. Stated in
these terms we know very little about the first 40 years, except at the end of them
advanced man had learned to use the skins of animals to cover him.
Then about 10 years ago under this standard man emerged from his cave to construct
other kinds of shelter. Only 5 years ago man learned to write and use a cart with wheels.
Christianity began less than 2 years ago. The printing press came this year and then less
than 2 months ago, during this whole 50-year span of human history, the steam engine
provided a new source of power. Newton explored the meaning of gravity.
Last month, electric lights and telephones and automobiles and airplanes became
available. Only last week did we develop penicillin and television and nuclear power.
And now if America's new spacecraft succeeds in reaching Venus, we will have literally
reached the stars before midnight tonight. This is a breathtaking pace and such a pace