The Other Things: Reflecting on JFK’s iconic speech at Rice

Kennedy at Rice UniversityToday marks the 50th anniversary of one of the most enduring memories in Rice’s history. On Sept. 12, 1962, President John F. Kennedy stood before an estimated crowd of 40,000 people and delivered one the most unforgettable speeches of his presidency, declaring, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

That, of course, is the most famous quote from the speech, but without proper context, it may leave one wondering what “the other things” actually were. In reading the entirety of the speech, you will find that this declaration was in response to a series of questions Kennedy posed.

“But why, some say, the moon?” asked Kennedy. “Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic?”

And in what is apparently a last-minute thought by Kennedy, he scribbled one final question between the lines of the pre-typed speech: “Why does Rice play Texas?”

President Kennedy knew what many of us have all come to learn, which is that for a nation, for a university or for an individual, great accomplishments are made only by setting great goals.

That very same season, The University of Texas won all of their regular season games save for one; the one team that refused to lose was Rice University, tying the cross-state Goliath. And speaking of giants, within the decade, Neil Armstrong made his small step on the lunar surface and a giant leap for us all just as Kennedy had stated.

In Continuing Studies, we strive to offer individuals the opportunity to set those great goals and to accomplish “the other things.”

So as we think back to that great moment in Rice’s first 100 years, what goals are you aiming for? May we suggest the moon?

For more information on President Kennedy’s speech, read the press release.

Kennedy Video

Click the image to watch the video.


Our Master of Liberal Studies Director, John Freeman, Ph.D., was intimately involved with the Apollo project. Dr. Freeman had a scientific instrument that was deployed on the Moon by the Astronauts on the Apollo 12, 14 and 15 lunar landing missions as part of the Apollo Lunar Surface Package. The instrument, called the Suprathermal Ion Detector Experiment (SIDE), provided the first evidence for water vapor on the surface of the Moon. He was ultimately awarded the NASA Medal for Exceptional Scientific Achievement for this work.

Also, our MLS Graduate, Bill Fischer was in charge of the design of the Apollo Lunar Module.

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