Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush gave the commencement address today at Liberty University, the Virginia institution founded by the late Jerry Falwell.
The all-but 2016 presidential candidate gave a spirited defense of Christianity.
“Thank you very much, President Falwell. Trustees, faculty and staff, distinguished guests, parents and friends: I appreciate your kind hospitality. And to all the graduates: Thank you for letting me share in this wonderful day, as you become proud alumni of Liberty University.
“It’s so good to be here, and especially to visit with the Falwell family. My Dad thought very highly of your father, President Falwell, and knew him as a loyal friend. Jerry Falwell had a gift for friendship, spoke to everyone, and turned his back on no one. His legacy endures, and it only begins with this great American university.
“My Dad received an honorary degree here 25 years ago, and so many of you have asked this morning how he’s doing, just a month shy of his 91st birthday. I’m happy to say he’s in pretty good shape. And it’ll stay that way, if we can just keep his mind off that parachute.
“Today was also my first chance to meet Pastor Jonathan Falwell. Jonathan has a unique place at Liberty, among other reasons because, here at this university, his father used to be president, and then his brother became president. Somehow – I don’t know what it was – we really hit it off. I’m not sure what’s in store for you next, Jonathan, but I’m pulling for you.
“The proudest people here won’t be collecting degrees. And maybe the parents of this class are thinking of another time, when your milestones in life were, well, a little less ceremonious than today. Things like standing up that first time, or starting to read books, instead of just chewing on them, or performing little miracles, like blowing your own nose or sitting still in church.
“It doesn’t always feel that way to parents, but they must have done a lot of things right. Today, by the thousands, Liberty is sending forth across America civilized, confident, true-hearted men and women – which happens to be just what America needs.
“When the rest of the world hardly knew of you, you were all the world to your Mom and Dad. And by the way you still are – so how about we all show our gratitude to the parents of the Class of 2015.
“I might add that if you have earned a Liberty degree while on active duty in the United States military, that is a special distinction. You’re a credit to this university and to your country, and we thank you.
“Whether you’re in this stadium or an online student receiving a degree, as of today, Liberty University is in your past. But this school, and the values that it stands for, will always be part of who you are.
“And if there is any useful role I can perform here, maybe it’s just to offer one last word of encouragement in the vocation you have freely taken up. It’s the same one, of course, whatever degree you have earned, whatever work you will do, however life unfolds. It is the greatest of all callings – to know, love, and serve the Lord – and it’s yours by choice.
“You know how to choose a path and stay on it. That’s useful knowledge when life can present more choices than we sometimes know what to do with. Especially if you’re young and trying to live out the message of the Gospels, the world will never run short of competing offers. You’ve heard them all, you’re not impressed, and that wisdom alone will carry you a long way.
“The faith that you brought here, the faith that matured here, doesn’t give every answer to every question. Nor, of course, does it promise anyone a life spared from doubt or difficulty. But in the way of life’s advantages, each one of you already has the best there is – an awakened conscience. When you’ve got that going for you, there’s no end to the good you can do, or the wrongs you can help overcome, or the hope you can bring into the lives of others. This doesn’t always come as a welcome reminder in some quarters, but it is true all the same: Whatever the need, the affliction, or the injustice, there is no more powerful or liberating influence on this earth than the Christian conscience in action.
“How strange, in our own time, to hear Christianity spoken of as some sort of backward and oppressive force. Outside these seven thousand acres of shared conviction, it’s a depressing fact that when some people think of Christianity and of Judeo-Christian values, they think of something static, narrow, and outdated. We can take this as unfair criticism, as it typically is, or we can take it as further challenge to show in our lives the most dynamic, inclusive, and joyful message that ever came into the world.