On a bright October day in 1964, Lyndon Baines Johnson, 36th President of the United States, squinted into the South Florida sun and, in his famous Texas drawl, declared Florida Atlantic University officially open.
For a sitting U.S. chief executive to officiate the dedication of a new regional university was most unusual – but, then, FAU was no ordinary institution of higher learning. From its very inception, FAU was envisioned as the first of a new breed of American universities that would quite deliberately throw off the ivy-covered trappings of the tradition-bound world of academe and invent new and better ways of making higher education available to those who sought it.
Indeed, in his dedication remarks, President Johnson said that America had entered an era “when education is no longer only for the sons of the rich, but for all who can qualify.” Speaking on an outdoor stage before a crowd of 15,000, he called for “a new revolution in education” and said that a fully educated American public could vastly enrich life over the next 50 years.
Seated onstage behind the President as he spoke was an array of Florida’s top political VIPs, including Governor Farris Bryant, U.S. Senators Spessard Holland and George Smathers, U.S. Congressmen Claude Pepper and Paul Rogers, and a banker named Thomas F. Fleming, Jr., who, more than anybody else, was responsible for bringing America’s newest public university to Boca Raton.