For over 120 years, Notre Dame celebrated George Washington’s Birthday with theatrical and musical presentations (more about that in a future post). In 1954, the University created the Patriot of the Year Award to honor a public figure “who exemplifies the American ideals of justice, personal integrity and service to country” [Scholastic, 02/12/1954, page 10].
The senior class voted from a number of candidates and the honoree would address the students and faculty at the Washington Day Exercises. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was named the first Patriot of the Year. Others that followed included Bishop Fulton Sheen, Senator John F. Kennedy, Vice President Richard Nixon, Comedian Bob Hop, Lt. Col. John Glenn, and Sargent Shriver. In 1967 the candidates were Leonard Bernstein, J. William Fullbright, Chet Huntley/David Brinkley, Martin Luther King Jr., John Kenneth Galbraith, Carl Sandburg, Earl Warren, Arthur Goldberg, and Louis Armstrong, with Gen. William Westmoreland winning the nomination.
The Washington Day Exercises fizzled out around 1970 along with the Patriot of the Year Award, ending a long-beloved tradition at Notre Dame.
Tickets and press credentials for the Washington Day Exercises, 1960-1964
Senator John F. Kennedy receiving the Patriot of the Year Award from Senior Class President George Strake at the Washington Day Exercises, February 1957.
Vice President Richard Nixon receiving the Patriot of the Year Award from Senior Class President Richard Corbett, with Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, CSC, 02/23/1960.
Nixon’s Notre Dame speech on patriotism was printed and distributed at the
1960 Republican Convention.
Comedian Bob Hope receiving the Patriot of the Year Award from Senior Class President Earl Linhan at the Washington Day Exercises in the Fieldhouse, 02/27/1962.
Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, CSC, is also on stage.
Program cover from the 1965 Washington Day Exercises and Patriot of the Year Award Ceremony. R. Sargent Shirver Jr. received the award this year.
See also the list of Patriot of the Year Award recipients