Continuing our series on the historical events that shaped Pepperdine University in Malibu—in honor of the Malibu campus’ 40th anniversary—we arrive at April 13, 1971. On this overcast, unusually chilly day, approximately 500 Pepperdine supporters gathered on the freshly leveled dirt building pads of the new Malibu campus to observe ceremonies initiating construction of the campus buildings. Billed as the “Ceremony to Commence Construction of Academic Complex on Pepperdine University’s Malibu campus,” the event saw the dedication of three core buildings: Payson Library, the Pendleton Learning Center, and the Huntsinger Academic Center.
The namesakes of these buildings were on hand to make remarks, and President William S. Banowsky spoke about Pepperdine’s educational philosophy, but the real attraction of the day was the keynote address by Wernher von Braun, Deputy Associate Administrator of NASA. Von Braun, a German rocket engineer brought into the fold of the US government following World War II, was one of the leading scientists behind the Apollo moon mission. His prominence following the first moon landing in 1969 contributed to the phrase “it’s not rocket science” to describe a simple task.
His appearance at the Commencement of Construction ceremony—less than two years after the moon landing—provided Pepperdine University with the perfect symbol of education, innovation, and achievement. It was an auspicious start to the buildings that now form the heart of Pepperdine University’s Seaver College in Malibu.
In our Pepperdine Digital Collections, you can listen to a recording of the speeches made that day, including the address by von Braun (he appears on Part 2 of the recording). You can also view a few of the archival photographs of the event. Enjoy.