Though Richard Nixon is its sole graduate to become U.S. President thus far, Whittier College fosters the notion of public service in every field of study. Dedication to serving others is ingrained in each student’s Whittier experience, and through the last 12 decades, Whittier alumni have held political office at the national, state, and local levels, as well as key appointments to foreign embassies, serving on international peace efforts, and building humanitarian bridges across this country and neighboring nations. In the last 10 years alone, Whittier has graduated three Pickering Fellows (selected for training in foreign service careers), one of the 50 youngest elected mayors in the U.S., and two current students who ran a campaign for Whittier City Council while still undergraduates.
In 1934, Richard Milhouse Nixon graduated from Whittier with a degree in history. Only a few decades later, he would become the 37th President of the United States, and leave a lasting—if storied—legacy that impacts America still today.
Nixon pioneered many ventures during his career in public service. Among his most impactful and lasting moves as president, he established the Environmental Protection Agency and enforced desegregation in Southern schools. He was part of what he referred to as the “most historic call ever made from the White House” –speaking with astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin as they took their first steps on the moon. He was called the “first modern vice president,” as his work under Eisenhower significantly expanded the heretofore more titular office to more tactical work in both domestic and foreign affairs. Additionally, under his presidency, the military draft ended, the beginning of nuclear arms talks began with the Soviet Union, and the last U.S. troops withdrew from the Vietnam Conflict.
As a president largely focused on foreign policy, however, his most notable and successful legacy lay in his efforts to establish relations with Asia, marked by his historic presidential trip to China in 1972 and meetings with Chairman Mao— a series called by Nixon’s National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger as the “encounter with history.” As a result of this work, the door was opened to succeeding U.S.- China diplomatic relations, and the establishment of profitable and longstanding global partnerships and trade and commerce opportunities.