President Donald Trump appeared on friendly ground Saturday morning after a bitter and acrimonious week in Washington.
Trump delivered the commencement speech at the Liberty University’s graduation ceremony in Lynchburg, Va., where he was warmly received with nary a protester in sight. It was his first commencement speech as president.
He was introduced by the school’s president, Jerry Falwell, Jr., a key campaign ally who helped Trump win the evangelical vote in the 2016 election.
Falwell made a point of acknowledging Trump’s commitment to Christian values, specifically, his religious liberty executive order and his pro-life Supreme Court pick, Justice Neil Gorsuch. Falwell, who presented Trump with an honorary doctorate from Liberty, later said the Trump delivered one of the best commencement speeches he’d ever heard.
The president couldn’t resist taking a couple of shots at the political establishment in Washington, but spent most of his time giving the grads words of encouragement.
Trump began by congratulating the Class of 2017 in typical Trumpian fashion: “This is some achievement,” he said. “This is your day and you’ve earned every minute of it.”
And he gave the Almighty some of the credit for their achievement, as well as for his own achievement of being elected president: “The Class of 2017, dressed in cap and gown, graduating to a totally brilliant future. And here I am standing before you as president of the United States. So, I’m guessing there are some people here today who thought that either one of those things — either one — would really require major help from God. And we got it.”
After giving a special Mother’s Day shout-out to moms and singling out the “nearly 6000 service members, military veterans and military spouses” who received their diplomas today, the president got to the meat of the speech — his call for the class of 2017 to buck convention and follow their true convictions and to “take the road less traveled.”
Trump promised the Christian crowd that as long as he is president, “no one is ever going to stop you from practicing your faith or from preaching what’s in your heart.”
He also notably told the graduates that “in America, we don’t worship government, we worship God,” in contrast to the former president who often seemed to suggest otherwise.
Today you end one chapter, but you are about to begin the greatest adventure of your life. Just think for a moment of how blessed you are to be here today at this great, great university, living in this amazing country, surrounded by people who you love and care about so much.
Then ask yourself, with all of those blessings, and all of the blessings that you’ve been given, what will you give back to this country and, indeed, to the world? What imprint will you leave in the sands of history? What will future Americans say we did in our brief time right here on Earth? Did we take risks? Did we dare to defy expectations? Did we challenge accepted wisdom and take on established systems? I think I did, but we all did and we’re all doing it.
Or did we just go along with convention, swim downstream, so easily with the current and just give in because it was the easy way, it was the traditional way or it was the accepted way? Remember this, nothing worth doing ever, ever, ever came easy. Following your convictions means you must be willing to face criticism from those who lack the same courage to do what is right — and they know what is right, but they don’t have the courage or the guts or the stamina to take it and to do it. It’s called the road less traveled.
I know that each of you will be a warrior for the truth, will be a warrior for our country, and for your family. I know that each of you will do what is right, not what is the easy way, and that you will be true to yourself, and your country, and your beliefs. In my short time in Washington I’ve seen firsthand how the system is broken.
A small group of failed voices who think they know everything and understand everyone want to tell everybody else how to live and what to do and how to think. But you aren’t going to let other people tell you what you believe, especially when you know that you’re right. And those of you graduating here today, who have given half a million hours of charity last year alone, unbelievable amount of work and charity and few universities or colleges can claim anything even close, we don’t need a lecture from Washington on how to lead our lives. I’m standing here looking at the next generation of American leaders. There may very well be a president or two in our midst. Anybody think they’re going to be president, raise your hand.
In your hearts are inscribed the values of service, sacrifice and devotion. Now you must go forth into the world and turn your hopes and dreams into action. America has always been the land of dreams because America is a nation of true believers. When the pilgrims landed at Plymouth they prayed. When the founders wrote the Declaration of Independence, they invoked our creator four times, because in America we don’t worship government we worship God.
That is why our elected officials put their hands on the Bible and say, ‘So help me God,’ as they take the oath of office. It is why our currency proudly declares, ‘In God we trust,’ and it’s why we proudly proclaim that we are one nation under God every time we say the pledge of allegiance.
The story of America is the story of an adventure that began with deep faith, big dreams and humble beginnings. That is also the story of Liberty University. When I think about the visionary founder of this great institution, Reverend Jerry Falwell Sr., I can only imagine how excited he would be if he could see all of this and all of you today, and how proud he would be of his son and of his family.
Trump encouraged the graduates to “be themselves and relish the label of outsider.”
Carry yourself with dignity and pride. Demand the best from yourself and be totally unafraid to challenge entrenched interests and failed power structures. Does that sound familiar by the way? The more people tell you it’s not possible, that it can’t be done, the more you should be absolutely determined to prove them wrong. Treat the word ‘impossible’ as nothing more than motivation. Relish the opportunity to be an outsider. Embrace that label — being an outsider is fine, embrace the label — because it’s the outsiders who change the world and who make a real and lasting difference. The more that a broken system tells you that you’re wrong, the more certain you should be that you must keep pushing ahead, you must keep pushing forward.
And always have the courage to be yourself. Most importantly, you have to do what you love. You have to do what you love. I’ve seen so many people, they’re forced through lots of reasons, sometimes including family, to go down a path that they don’t want to go down, to go down a path that leads them to something that they don’t love, that they don’t enjoy. You have to do what you love, or you most likely won’t be very successful at it. So do what you love.
America is better when people put their faith into action. As long as I am your president, no one is ever going to stop you from practicing your faith or from preaching what’s in your heart.
Fortunately you have been equipped with the tools from your time right here on this campus to make the right decisions and to serve God, family and country. As you build good lives, you will also be rebuilding our nation. You’ll be leaders in your communities, stewards of great institutions and defenders of liberty and you will be great mothers and fathers and grandmothers and grandfathers, loving friends and loving family members.
You will build a future where we have the courage to chase our dreams no matter what the cynics and the doubters have to say. You will have the confidence to speak the hopes in your hearts and to express the love that stirs your souls. And you will have the faith to replace a broken establishment with a government that serves and protects the people.
We must always remember that we share one home and one glorious destiny whether we are brown, black or white. We all bleed the same red blood of patriots. We all salute the same great American flag, and we are all made by the same almighty God. As long as you remember what you have learned here at Liberty, as long as you have pride in your beliefs, courage in your convictions and faith in your God, then you will not fail.
And as long as America remains true to its values, loyal to its citizens, and devoted to its creator, then our best days are yet to come, I can promise you that. This has been an exceptional morning. It’s been a great honor for me and I want to thank you, the students. I also want to thank you, the family, for getting them there ,and I want to thank and congratulate Liberty. May God bless the class of 2017. May God bless the United States of America. May God bless all of you here today. Thank you very much, thank you. Thank you.