President Taft visits USC in 1911

1911: President William Howard Taft visits the USC campus. (Photo/USC Digital Archives)


Hail to the chiefs: Presidential visits to USC, in pictures

For future, current and former presidents, the road to and from the White House often leads through Trojan territory.

February 16, 2024 By David Medzerian

We haven’t had a Trojan as U.S. president yet, but USC had has more than its share of presidential moments — starting on Oct. 23, 1880, when President Rutherford B. Hayes stopped by to visit the 17-day-old university. In honor of Presidents Day, here’s a look at some other memorable visits by U.S. commanders in chief — past, present and future.

William Howard Taft

The 27th president of the United States — who later served on the Supreme Court as its 10th chief justice — toured the USC campus in 1911 during a visit to Los Angeles.

Franklin D. Roosevelt

The Roosevelts visit the Coliseum in 1935
1935: The Roosevelts are pictured in the Coliseum, where the president spoke. (Photo/USC Digital Archives)

The 32nd president of the United States visited in 1935 during his first term in office; it was his first time in Los Angeles as president. Roosevelt and his wife, Eleanor, stopped by the USC administration building, where the president was given an honorary degree. His motorcade then headed to the Coliseum, where he gave a speech to the assembled crowd.

Richard M. Nixon and John F. Kennedy

John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon at USC
As part of the USC First-Time Voter Convocation, both candidates in the 1960 presidential race — Vice President Richard M. Nixon and Sen. John F. Kennedy — visited the university, weeks apart. (Photos/USC University Archives)

The 1960 campaign brought two future presidents to USC as candidates participating in the university’s First-Time Voter Convocation.

U.S. Sen. John F. Kennedy spoke to a crowd of some 15,000 students from USC and 27 other colleges and universities; one week later, he was elected.

A few weeks before the Kennedy visit, Vice President Richard M. Nixon spoke to supporters on campus. Nixon — whose wife, Pat Nixon, was a USC alumna — was elected to the nation’s highest office eight years later, defeating Hubert H. Humphrey in the 1968 election.

Gerald R. Ford

President Ford at USC
1976: Gerald R. Ford, 38th president of the United States, brings his campaign against Jimmy Carter to USC. (Photo/USC Digital Archives)

As 38th president of the United States, Ford visited the USC campus during his 1976 campaign against Jimmy Carter.

A few weeks after Ford lost the election, he suffered another defeat: the University of Michigan, where he had been a football standout during his college days, lost to USC in the 1977 Rose Bowl. Ford sent a $10 bill to USC President John Hubbard to settle a wager over the game. “Seriously, I really thought that Michigan would win, but I must admit that USC has an excellent team,” Ford wrote Hubbard on White House stationery.

After leaving office, Ford returned to USC twice to lecture in a variety of classes.

Ronald Reagan

Ronald and Nancy Reagan with USC President James H. Zumberge and USC Vice President Anthony Lazzaro
1984: Before officially opening the Olympic Games, President Ronald Reagan greets USC Vice President Anthony Lazzaro as first lady Nancy Reagan and USC President James H. Zumberge look on. (Photo/USC Libraries)

Los Angeles hosted the 1984 Olympics during Ronald Reagan’s presidency, and with USC right in the thick of things the 40th president of the United States visited the campus before officially opening the games.

It wasn’t his first time at USC, though: As a young actor, Reagan had modeled for art students in a sculpture class as an example of the “ideal male physique.”

Ronald Reagan poses for an art class.
1940: Ronald Reagan poses for a USC sculpture class. (Photo/USC Digital Archives)

Joe Biden

Joe Biden and USC Gould’s Bill Givens
2009: Joe Biden shares a laugh with USC Gould’s Bill Givens during the law school’s commencement ceremony. (Photo/Courtesy of Bill Givens)

Just a few months into his first term as vice president, Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, were in the crowd at the USC Gould School of Law’s commencement ceremony. Biden was on hand to see his nephew, Cuffe Biden Owens, receive his JD degree; we’re still waiting for a visit from Biden as commander in chief.

Barack Obama

President Obama visits USC
2010: President Barack Obama speaks to a crowd of 37,500 at USC. (Photo/S. Spratling)

The nation’s 44th president visited the University Park Campus in 2010. His speech in front of Doheny Memorial Library — a rally just before the November midterm elections — drew an estimated 37,500 people.

Thirteen years later, he returned to USC with Michelle Obama for his daughter Sasha’s graduation.

George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush

George and Laura bush posing with administration
2013: George W. Bush and Laura Bush, here with USC President C. L. Max Nikias and USC Marshall School of Business Dean James G. Ellis. addressed USC guests, students, faculty and Widney Society members at Bovard Auditorium. (USC Photo/Steve Cohn)
George H.W. Bush speaks at Bovard Auditorium in 2000
2000: George H.W. Bush speaks at Bovard Auditorium. (Photo/USC University Archives)

George W. Bush, the 43rd president of the United States, and former first Lady Laura Bush came to campus in 2013 part of the USC President’s Distinguished Lecture Series. The two addressed students, faculty, guests and Widney Society members in a packed Bovard Auditorium. “It is a rare opportunity to spend this evening in the company of two people who have practiced leadership on such a global stage, at such pivotal moments in human history,” USC President C. L. Max Nikias told the crowd.

Some 13 years earlier, Bush’s father — George H.W. Bush, the 41st U.S. president — had been a guest of USC President Steven B. Sample as part of the same lecture series. Sample reminded the crowd that President Bush was no stranger to the campus: “We honored him in 1995 with a Julius Award from the USC School of Policy, Planning and Development for his exceptional heroism during World War II and his extraordinary service to the people of the United States.”

Bill Clinton

Bill Clinton posing with President Nikias
2014: USC President C. L. Max Nikias joined Bill Clinton on stage at Bovard Auditorium. (USC Photo/Karen Ballard)

USC’s parade of former, current and future presidents continued in late 2014 when Bill Clinton took the Bovard stage at another President’s Distinguished Lecture Series event. “I wish I were your age,” the former president told students in the audience. “I’d love to see what’s going to happen. We’re entering an age of unprecedented discovery … It’s going to be an amazing time to be alive.”

This post originally published on Feb. 13, 2015, and has been updated.