Lawrence University: A favorite of White House hopefuls

Contact: Rick Peterson, Office of Communications, 920-832-6590

APPLETON, WIS. — When first lady Michelle Obama stops at Lawrence University to address a crowd of more than 2,000 on Friday, Sept. 28, it will mark the second time in less than six months a major presidential campaign figure has visited the small Midwest liberal arts college.

Lawrence was in the national spotlight March 30 when Gov. Mitt Romney spoke to an overflow crowd on the campus of 1,450 students. Wisconsin Congressman, and eventual Republican vice president choice, handled the introduction that day.

Mrs. Obama’s visit will be historic — she is the first sitting first lady to speak at Lawrence — but not completely unexpected.

As far back as 1911 when President William Howard Taft spoke on the steps of the college’s iconic Main Hall, Lawrence has been a landing pad for residents of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. and would-be White House occupants.

Russ Feingold, who represented Wisconsin for 18 years as a three-term U.S. Senator and visited the campus during his own election campaigns, said Lawrence’s status as one of the country’s leading liberal arts colleges helps make it a desirable stop.

“Lawrence is one of Wisconsin’s cherished institutions, so of course it’s a natural destination for any candidate running for office,” said Feingold, who is spending part of the fall term teaching at Lawrence as the college’s Distinguished Visiting Scarff Professor. “Lawrence’s reputation for rich international engagement gives candidates a great place to discuss our country’s most pressing issues.”

Located in a swing area of a swing state, Lawrence has historically drawn candidates from both sides of the political aisle — Democrat John Kerry in 2004, Republican George H.W. Bush in 1988 — as well as those outside the mainstream. John Anderson, who made a credible run for president as an independent in 1980, included a stop at Lawrence during his campaign.

“College campuses give candidates cachet,” said Lawrence political scientist Arnold Shober. “Appearing on campus gives campaigns an aura of expertise, learning, youth — and idealism — all in one. Lawrence University provides all of these in the vote-rich and decidedly bipartisan Fox Valley region of Wisconsin. Candidates from both major parties can pick up votes here and they can easily reach voters from Oshkosh to Green Bay.”

Beyond the notoriety that comes with hosting a sitting president or presidential candidate, Lawrence sees the high-profile visits as invaluable chances for students to engage first-hand in the political process.

“We are extremely pleased that our students have opportunities to hear and interact with major figures in contemporary politics,” said David Burrows, Lawrence provost and dean of the faculty. “Liberal education includes developing a commitment for active engagement with world issues, a commitment to make a difference. Campus visits by the first lady and others who are themselves active participants in current affairs are very exciting for Lawrence students, regardless of their political convictions, and help spur them on to lives of thoughtful and effective action.”

Presidents, first ladies and presidential candidates who have visited Lawrence University:

• Oct. 26, 1911: President William Howard Taft speaks on the steps of Main Hall

• March 21, 1944: Wendell Willkie, Republican candidate for president

• Nov. 13, 1959: Vice President Richard Nixon spoke in the Lawrence Memorial Chapel

• March 11, 1960: John F. Kennedy, Democrat candidate for president, spoke in Riverview Lounge

• March 15, 1968: Eugene McCarthy, Democrat candidate for president

• Feb. 23, 1972: Henry Jackson, Democrat candidate for president, spoke in Stansbury Theatre

• March 29, 1972: George Wallace, Democrat candidate for president, spoke in the Lawrence Memorial Chapel

• March 19, 1980: John Anderson, Independent candidate for president, spoke in the Lawrence Memorial Chapel

• Oct. 24, 1984: Joan Mondale, campaigning on behalf of her husband Walter, Democrat candidate for president, spoke in Riverview Lounge

• March 29, 1988: George H.W. Bush, Republican candidate for president, spoke in the Lawrence Memorial Chapel

• Oct. 15, 2004: John Kerry, Democrat candidate for president, spoke outside of Alexander Gym

• March 30, 2012: Mitt Romney, Republican candidate for president, spoke in Stansbury Theatre

• Sept. 28, 2012: First lady Michelle Obama speaks in Alexander Gym

About Lawrence University

Founded in 1847, Lawrence University uniquely integrates a college of liberal arts and sciences with a world-class conservatory of music, both devoted exclusively to undergraduate education. It was selected for inclusion in the Fiske Guide to Colleges 2013 and the book “Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About College.” Individualized learning, the development of multiple interests and community engagement are central to the Lawrence experience. Lawrence draws its 1,450students from nearly every state and more than 50 countries.