Over thirty years removed from office and
the Watergate scandal that placed him there, the 38th president of
the United States, Gerald R. Ford Jr., is celebrating his 90th
birthday. He remains the only president from the state of Michigan
and the only one who attended the University. Though history may
remember him as the first vice president to assume the role of
commander in chief without election, and subsequently as the only
president to garner the prestigious position as the result of his
predecessor’s resignation, the University community should view him
as a friend and a supporter.

Throughout the course of his life, Ford has been a man of
incredible honesty and integrity. Despite the fact that he lost his
bid for a second term in office, he left the White House having
earned a reputation for being passionate and truthful. He has been
a man who certainly stands up for what he believes in and
passionately defends his convictions.

Well before there was affirmative action and decades prior to
the civil rights movement, Ford was a believer in equal
opportunity. Born Leslie King Jr. in Nebraska and raised in Grand
Rapids, Ford (whose name was changed after his mother remarried),
gained a system of values that allowed him to see people for who
they are as opposed to judging them on a preconceived notion. When
the all-state football player entered college at the University on
a football scholarship, he quickly befriended a very talented
teammate, Willis Ward. Ward played right end and both of the half
back positions and was extremely valuable to the team. In a 1934
game against the southern school Georgia Tech, Ward became the
center of concern. Georgia Tech ardently opposed playing the
Wolverines if Ward were to play because Ward was the only black
member on the team. Ford quickly, with the rest of the team,
supported Ward and adamantly fought to keep Ward in the game and on
the field. Ultimately, Ward himself decided not to play, but
happily, Georgia Tech turned out to be the only team that Michigan
beat that year.

After President Richard Nixon resigned following the Watergate
scandal, Ford was sworn in as President. He inherited the
presidency at a time when the country was full of anguish and
turmoil. The Vietnam War was still being waged, the economy needed
a boost after a recession and the American public didn’t know whom
they could trust. While this page has often disagreed with many of
Ford’s policies, he has received credit for helping to speed
economic growth shortly after taking office, and the Vietnam War
finally came to an end in 1975 under his leadership. He lost the
presidential election to Jimmy Carter, but his ability to become
friends with Carter says a great deal about Ford’s character.

Fast-forward to the 1990s, and we again see Ford defending those
things that he believes in. When rejected applicants challenged the
constitutionality of the University’s admissions policies, Ford
came to the University’s defense. His position diverged from a
strong number of his party’s members’ and firmly stated that
diversity was necessary in order “to create the finest educational
environment.”

Ford is one of the University’s most well known alumni. He led
the country through one of the past half century’s extremely
difficult eras. He is a model American citizen.

Happy birthday President Ford.

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