Cornel West’s Commencement Address at Harvard Divinity School

This resonates with me on many levels:

Read the transcript here.

A taste:

As I look at myself, I can see the white supremacy in me. But oh, when I was at Charlottesville, looking in the eyes of those sick, neo-Nazi white brothers, gangsters, thugs, I didn’t lose sight of the gangster in me. I just try to reconquer it every day, and they need a little more work. But they’re still made in the same image of the god that I serve, and they can kill me as they kill so many others in my tradition—talk about me, trash me, misunderstand me, but I’m not going to stoop so low that I lose sight of their humanity, and they’re still on the same continuum. That is a fundamental challenge for the younger generation, because in these Balkanized and polarized times, it’s so easy to go off in your corner, in your own silo, and think somehow you are so empowered and enabled and able to engage in serious, effective work on the battlefield when you yourself have spiritual emptiness. So, it’s hard for you to be the change you’re talking about. That’s what is required of all these various traditions, as deep human challenges.

Last but not least, in celebrating you, I want you to never, ever forget that you have the capacity to preserve your revolutionary joy. We live in a culture with a joyless quest for insatiable pleasure. Whole lot of titillation and stimulation possible, but when it comes to that which endures—the deep stuff, the joys that are beneath the pleasures—don’t let anything or anybody take your joy away. I told the undergraduate class at the Black graduation yesterday, I said: Don’t let anybody take your funk away. They want to deodorize you and sanitize you and sterilize you and make you just another example of Harvard graduate and success. No, don’t confuse success with greatness. 

Somewhere I read: He or she that’s greatest among you will be your servant, and if you’re servant, you have to be bold. You’re going to have to take a risk, you have to pay a cost, you’re going to have to cut against the grain. It’s not going to be fun, but there’ll be joy in that kind of struggle, joy in your intellectual courage exercise, joy in your moral and spiritual witness enacted even as you fall on your face. As Samuel Beckett always reminds us: We try again, fail again, and fail better.

As you embark on the next stage, fail so much better. Fail with all of your revolutionary joy. Fail with that subversive piety. Fail with your intellectual humility and with your spiritual intensity. Class of 2019, are you ready? Are you ready? Let me know! Are you ready? Are you ready? Are you really ready? Then let’s go, let’s go, let’s go!

Read the entire speech here.

 

Mike Pence at Taylor

Taylor

Mike Pence gave the commencement address earlier today at Taylor University.  Taylor’s invitation to Pence has been controversial.  I wrote about it in a piece at Religion News Service.

As expected, dozens of students and faculty walked out of the room before Pence took the lectern.  The Washington Post has the best reporting I have seen so far.  Read Isaac Stanley-Becker’s piece here.

The Indianapolis Star has published the full transcript of Pence’s remarks.  The speech is very similar to the one he gave last week at Liberty University, but it has a slightly less culture war feel.  Pence did not reference Trump as much as he did at Liberty and he dropped some of the persecution language that I wrote about in this Washington Post piece.  Nevertheless, I stand by my original Religion News Service piece.  (See link above).

Here is the transcript:

Thank you so much. To President Haines, the Board of Trustees, faculty, staff, family, distinguished guests: It is an honor for us to be here at the Kesler Center for the commencement ceremony of Taylor University Class of 2019. Congratulations.  You made it!  

And I want to thank you, President Haines. Thank you for your friendship. Thank you for those warm words. I only wish that my parents could have heard them. My father would have enjoyed it, and my mother would’ve believed it. But would you all join me in thanking President Haines for the extraordinary leadership he’s provided here to Taylor University? We are all so grateful.

And it’s great to be here with so many friends of ours. Met a lot of them backstage.  It’s always good to be back in Indiana. And speaking of friends of mine, allow me to bring greetings from a friend I just spoke to on the phone on my way over to Taylor, shortly after we landed.  He asked me to pass along his regards.  So allow me to extend congratulations to the graduating class of 2019 from the 45th President of the United States of America, President Donald Trump. 

It is a joy to be back home again here in the Hoosier State with all of you with somebody who is the most special person in my life. You know, I always wait to introduce the highest-ranking official last.  She’s a Marine Corps mom.  She’s a champion for military families.  She even teaches art at a Christian school.  Would you join me in giving one more welcome to the Second Lady of the United States of America, Karen Pence?  

Karen and I are really honored to be back on this beautiful campus.  It really is amazing to think: For more than 170 years, Taylor University has faithfully carried out its mission “to develop servant leaders marked with a passion to minister Christ’s redemptive love and truth to a world in need.”  We heard those themes again from the podium already today.

And the class of 2019 is emblematic of that mission, and you are a remarkable class.  You come from 29 different states, 21 different nations, and I learned on the way here that more than 300 of you are graduating from Taylor University today with honors.  Congratulations to you all.  Well done.  

And among you are scholars, accomplished musicians and artists, and exceptional athletes.  In fact — in fact, I heard that all 18 of Taylor’s Trojan teams have been recognized as “Scholar-Athletes” by the NAIA.  Give yourselves another round of applause. That’s great.   

And behind all of these incredible achievements, of course, are some really special people.  Like a young woman who began her career at Taylor as an education major — but over the course of her time here, she was pulled in a different direction.  She’s gone on several mission trips abroad to minister to children in need.  She’s dedicated her time and talent, alongside her parents, to care for refugees.  And today she volunteers at least three days a week at an afterschool program here in Upland.  And today, she will become Taylor University’s first ever major in Orphans and Vulnerable Children.  Join me in congratulating Rachael Rower on a great academic career.  Where are you, Rachael? We’re proud of you.

And I also was told that Rachael is engaged to be married in just under a month.    So I guess I have to recognize another member of the class her fiancé, Joey Ferguson. Well done, Joey. You outkicked your coverage. God bless them both.

And, you know, I was told there’s another member of the Class of 2019 that I just have to mention, because I’m told he’s left an indelible mark on just about everybody he’s met here at Taylor.  He’s a great student, of course, and apparently a really good soccer player.  Good photographer.  Hard worker.  Clear thinker.  And that, even more than his rich Irish accent, is his deep and abiding faith in Jesus Christ.  It’s impressed everybody he’s met.

In fact, this young man is joined today, I’m told, by his parents, who had never been to the United States of America before today, but they just flew in to see this Taylor graduate walk across this stage. So congratulations to Charbel Salako. Where are you?  And to Charbel’s parents: Welcome to America!  What a great day.

And I know this is a great day for all of you in the Class of 2019. And it should be fun — because winners have fun, and you’re all winners today.

And you know that you didn’t get here on your own, though. The leaders here at Taylor University poured themselves into you — this administration, this incredible staff, and, of course, the men and women of Taylor’s faculty.

You know, it’s probably pretty safe to say that these professors didn’t go easy on you.  They pressed you over the last four years.  They challenged you, too.  They made you better.  They made you smarter.  They made you more ready.  So would you join me in thanking all the great faculty here at Taylor University for all they have done for you?  

And while I serve as your Vice President — and before that, as the president said here, I served as governor of this great state — the highest position I’ll ever hold is actually spelled “D-A-D.”  You know, Karen and I are the proud parents of three college graduates and that’s worth a round of applause.  Got them all through. 

So honestly, we understand, on a very personal level, the sacrifices that your families have made to help you reach this moment.  And we understand just how proud they are, as they sit all around us today.  And it’s an emotional day for them, I promise you.  They’re remembering not — not just the times that you were here at Taylor; they’re remembering all those days that led up to it.  They drove you to school, got you to do your homework before you went to bed.  And even while you were here, they encouraged you through late nights before final exams, and — and they wrote a few checks along the way, too.  

And they prayed — I know they did — for each and every one of you, every day that you were here.  So before we go any further, would all the moms and dads who are here — all the parents who are here — would you all just stand up so we can show you the appreciation that all these great graduates feel for all the support and love over the last four years?

Men and women of the Class of 2019, today you will graduate from an extraordinary university. You’ll begin your journey. New careers. New endeavors. And you know, they say timing is everything. And to this great class, I just want to tell you, straight up: You picked a great time to graduate from Taylor University. The America that awaits your energies and ambitions is experiencing a new era of optimism and opportunity.  You’re beginning your careers at a time of a growing American economy and restored American stature at home and abroad.

You know, as Vice President, it’s my honor, more than I can say, to serve alongside a President who has stood so strong for our national defense.  And on this Armed Forces Day, we honor all the soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coast Guard who defend our freedom every day. And to all the veterans who are here with us today, thank you for your service.

And I couldn’t be more proud to be part of an administration that has stood strong on the timeless values that have made this nation great, and stood without apology for the sanctity of human life.

But for all those accomplishments, you deserve to know that your timing really is great.  Because under the leadership of President Trump, we’ve been busy getting this economy moving again. We cut taxes. We rolled back regulation. We’ve unleashed American energy.

And as I stand before you today, the economy that awaits you — businesses large and small — have created 5.8 million new jobs in just over the last two years.  Unemployment is at a near 50-year low. And get this: Today, there are more job openings in America than there are Americans looking for work.  That’s great timing, Class of 2019.  

Not that Taylor grads are going to have any trouble finding a job. You know, I actually heard that 97 percent of Taylor graduates secure work or graduate school placement within the first six months of graduation. It’s a testament to this extraordinary university.

You know, the many Taylor grads I’ve worked with over the years are some of the smartest and most dedicated men and women I’ve ever known.  In fact, I’m proud that we got a Taylor grad serving on the staff of the Office of the Vice President at the White House, even as we speak.

So when you leave this remarkable place, I promise you, you’re going to find an America filled with promise. And I know the men and women of this Class of 2019 are going to thrive. Because you have the support of your families.  You have a foundation of a great and unique education.  And because, here at Taylor, it was all built on a foundation of faith — a foundation that cannot be shaken.

You know, it really is beautiful that, before you leave here today, you’ll be handed a diploma; you’ll also be handed a Bible and a Servant’s Towel.  And I believe these elements hold the keys to the success and fulfillment in the lives that await you.  And I know what I’m talking about.

You know, like many of you, I was raised in a church home. But by the time I got to high school, I lost interest in religion. I was one of those people who still went to church, but I was just going through the motions — you know, holding form of Christianity, but denying its power. 

By the time I went off to college — a little school down south of here — I just went my own way.  But when I went to school, I started to meet people — maybe like you have here — that I could tell where different.  Some people that had something I lacked. And it wasn’t just confidence or an easy familiarity; it was something they had that I knew I didn’t have.  The only way I could describe it was peace and a joy about everything in their lives.

In fact, I was so moved by their example that I started attending a Christian fellowship group on campus.  And I had this friend who ran the group.  He was a senior; I was a freshman.  And we became good friends.  And I talked to him a lot about faith issues.  And he spent a lot of time with me and was very patient.

But I noticed, you know, as I got more involved in the local fellowship group, that I decided I was going to go ahead and get involved.  And he was wearing this really cool little cross everywhere he went.  So I started asking him where he got it — you know, because I wanted to get one, too.  Frankly, I started to pester him about it. It was back then before you had these things that you’re always looking at, and we had these catalogues you order things from — you had to call on the phone. Your mom and dad will explain that to you.

And I kept bothering him about the catalogue. I said, “Hey, be sure and get me that catalogue because, you know, I want to order that cross.”  I said, “I’ve decided to go ahead and do the Christian thing. So, you know, I want to — you know, I want to start wearing a cross.”  

I’ll never forget — John looked at me one day and said some words that I’ll never forget.  I said to him, “Don’t forget about that catalogue.”  And he turned around, and he looked at me, and he said, “Mike, remember: You got to wear it in your heart before you wear it around your neck.”    To be honest with you, I didn’t know what he meant.  But I knew there was truth in it.  I wrestled with those words.

Then a little while later, I found myself at a youth Christian music festival that the group went to down in Wilmore, Kentucky.  We sat on a hillside for two days, listening to some great contemporary Christian music and messages in between.  And it was on a rainy night, sitting on that hillside back in 1978, that I heard some words I’d heard my whole life in Church — but I heard them different.

I’d always heard that “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”  But on that Saturday night, I heard it different.  Sitting on that hillside, I realized that it also meant God so loved me that He gave His only Son to save me from my sin. And overwhelmed not with guilt, but with a heart overflowing with gratitude, that night I put my faith in Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior.  And it’s made all the difference in my life.  

So now I want to say, not so much as your Vice President or a fellow Hoosier, but as a brother in Christ: If what you’ve seen and heard and learned in this place has also taken hold in your hearts, I want to encourage you to go from here, and live it out, and share it, and put feet on your faith as you carry and minister over the course of your lives.  Because America needs men and women of integrity and faith now more than ever.

You know, the truth is that we live in a time when religious belief is under assault.  We’ve seen unspeakable acts of violence against religious communities.  Synagogues in Pennsylvania and California.  Mosques in New Zealand.  Churches in Sri Lanka.  And three historically black churches burned to the ground in Louisiana.

And on a much lesser scale, but more prevalent, we see a change in our culture as well.  You know, throughout most of American history, it’s been pretty easy to call yourself a Christian — but things are different now.  Lately, it’s become acceptable, even fashionable, to malign traditional Christian beliefs.

So as you prepare to leave this place and build your life on the Christ-centered, world-engaging foundation poured here at Taylor University, be prepared to stand up.

You know, as Dr. Milo Rediger wrote in “Anchor Points” so long ago, he said, quote, “we’re looking for young people [here at Taylor] who are willing to stand up and be counted for God.”  And as you stand up, be prepared to face opposition.

But be confident.  For the Bible says, “God has given us a spirit not of timidity, but of power and love and self-control.”  So go show the world every day that we can love God and love our neighbor at the same time.    Our nation and our world needs it.

And know also that freedom of religion is enshrined not just in the Constitution, but in the hearts of every American.  And I promise you: We will always stand up for the freedom of religion and for the right of every American to live, to learn, to worship according to the dictates of your conscience.  That’s a promise.  

And finally, as you prepare to depart on your lives and careers, I hope that you will take one other piece of that foundation poured here at Taylor University along.  I hope that you will aspire to serve.  To be, as that towel will ever remind you, a servant leader.

You know, I believe public service is a noble calling.  But wherever life takes you, take a servant’s attitude.  Consider others more important than yourselves.  Live your lives as He did: not to be served, but to serve.

And if you need examples, you can just look around the people that are sitting with you.  A lot of young men and women here have already learned:  The fulfilled life is the life of service to others.

Like a public health major who grew up in Illinois who is graduating today.  Like many of you Taylor students, she traveled overseas to give her time and talent to help those in need.  But, as the story goes, during her J-term of her sophomore year, she was serving on a mission trip in the Middle East, and this young woman started to feel what she called “a little tug from God.”

Since then, that little tug has turned into a calling, and a calling that she’s answered.  And after graduation, this incredible young woman will move to the Middle East and serve as a Women’s Health Coordinator for the non-profit One Collective.  So would you all join me in showing our appreciation for the great example of 2019 graduate, Claire Heyen.  Well done, Claire.  We’re proud of you.  

So, Class of 2019, my word to all of you is: Never stop believing, never stop serving, and always be prepared to give a reason for the hope that you have, with gentleness and respect. Because our nation and our world need that message of grace and love these days maybe more than ever before.

And as you do these things, in increasing measure, I promise you, you’ll be blessed.  You’ll be a blessing to your family, to your coworkers, and you’ll be a blessing to this nation.

You know, America has always been a nation of faith.  As our first Vice President, John Adams, said, and I quote, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.  It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”  So just know, as you strengthen the foundation of faith in your life; as you carry that faith from here, in service to your fellow Americans, you will be strengthening the foundation of America itself.  

So thank you for the honor of addressing you. To all of our graduates, I say: Have faith.  Have faith in yourselves, proven by what you’ve accomplished to get you to this very day.  Have faith in the principles and the ideals that you learned here and the noble mission that has always animated Taylor University.  And have faith that He who brought you this far will never leave you, nor forsake you — because He never will.

Congratulations, Class of 2019. You did it. God bless you. And God bless America.

Commencement at Liberty University

In case you missed it, Vice President Mike Pence delivered the commencement address on Saturday at Liberty University, a school that claims to be the largest Christian university in the world.

Court evangelical and Liberty president Jerry Falwell Jr. was the master of ceremonies (Why didn’t he wear a robe like most college presidents?)  At one point in the ceremony he made his wife stand up to model the black and orange flame (as in Liberty Flames)-patterned dress she was wearing.  Falwell convinced her to wear it because she was the “hottest first lady at any college in the country.” Again, context is everything here.

Surgeon and 2016 GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson also spoke. He urged the graduates not to conform to the “forces of political correctness” that “want you to shut up and not express what you believe.”  He extolled the apparent Judeo-Christian founding of the country and told the graduating class that they were our best hope to “save America.”

When Jerry Falwell Jr. introduced Mike Pence, he praised the Vice-President for doing such a great job despite constant attacks from a “hostile press.”  He described him as one of the greatest Vice Presidents of all time.

Early in Pence’s speech some folks in the crowd starting chanting “U.S.A., U.S.A, U.S.A.” This is an odd thing to chant at a Christian college graduation, but there seems to be no big difference between Christian education and patriotism at Liberty University.

Pence wasted no time turning his commencement address into a Trump rally.  He praised the Trump economy, reminded the audience that “America stands with Israel,” talked about abortion, and attacked Barack Obama for his supposed threats to religious liberty.  Like Carson’s brief speech, Pence’s speech was filled with the typical victimization rhetoric and fear-mongering that one often hears from conservative evangelicals these days.  Pence cannot seem to move  beyond the culture wars–this is how he sees the world.  It is “us” vs. “them.”  The crowd loved it.

At one point in the speech, Pence gave a moving testimony about his conversion experience. I appreciated it.  But in the context–both in terms of Jerry Falwell Jr.’s politicization of Liberty University and Pence’s connection to the Trump administration–he seemed to suggest that an evangelical conversion will naturally lead to Christian Right politics and the unrelenting support of an immoral president.  It does not.

A commencement address should be a celebration of the graduates.  A commencement speaker must put down the self and offer words of encouragement and some wise advice about life after graduation.  To his credit, Pence did some of this. But even his words of exhortation to the graduates sounded like a Trump stump speech for 2020 and a warning to watch out for the progressives lurking in the shadows ready to undermine Christian America.  This was a message of fear, not hope.  But that is how they do things at Liberty University.

I am sure we will hear similar things from Pence next week at Taylor University.

My Piece at *Religion Dispatches* on Jimmy Carter’s Visit to Liberty University

Liberty-Ben-Carson-Jimmy-Carter-Jerry-FalwellHere is a taste:

Last year Donald Trump delivered the commencement address at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of the university, said that Trump’s speech “will go down in history as one of the greatest commencement speeches ever.”

This year’s speaker was Jimmy Carter, the 39th president of the United States. On Saturday the Liberty University community heard a commencement address from an evangelical Christian who disagrees with Trump and Falwell Jr. on almost every major policy issue of the age.

Carter and the Falwell family have had an uneasy relationship over the years. Both Carter and Jerry Falwell Sr. (the founder of Liberty University and the father of the current university president) claim(ed) to be born-again Christians. But during the Carter administration, Falwell Sr. was a staunch critic of the president’s position on a host of social issues. Carter supported the Equal Rights Amendment. Falwell Sr. did not. Carter opposed prayer in schools and a constitutional amendment banning abortion (although he opposed abortion personally). Falwell Sr. championed both issues. Carter believed that government had a major role to play in promoting justice. Falwell thought government was an intrusion on individual liberties.

Falwell Sr. also criticized Jimmy Carter for his infamous 1976 interview with Playboy magazine in which the Georgia governor and presidential candidate confessed that he had “committed adultery in my heart many times.” Falwell Sr. said that Carter’s decision to give an interview to Playboy “was lending the credence and the dignity of the highest office in the land to a salacious, vulgar magazine that did not even deserve the time of his day.”

Read the rest at Religion Dispatches.

Jimmy Carter Will Deliver 2018 Liberty University Commencement Address

Last year it was Donald Trump. This year it is Jimmy Carter.

Some context:

Here is what Jerry Falwell Jr. said about Jimmy Carter in 2016. (Fast-forward to the 4:35 mark):

And then this happened.

Jimmy Carter is a grace-filled Christian.   But the antics of the Religious Right often put his Christian spirit to the test.  At one point during the 1980 presidential election campaign Carter said, “Jerry Falwell can go straight to hell…and I mean that in a Christian way.”

I doubt Carter will repeat these words at the 2018 Liberty commencement, but he does have a message that the university’s student body and administration needs to hear.  I hope he delivers it.

I should also add that Messiah College is well ahead of the curve here.  Carter spoke on our campus in 1986.

The Difference Between “The Intellectual” and the “Person of Intellectual Achievement”

tom-wolfe-400

This comes from the writer Tom Wolfe‘s 2000 commencement address at Boston University:

We must be careful to make a distinction between the intellectual and the person of intellectual achievement. The two are very, very different animals. There are people of intellectual achievement who increase the sum of human knowledge, the powers of human insight, and analysis. And then there are the intellectuals. An intellectual is a person knowledgeable in one field who speaks out only in others. Starting in the early twentieth century, for the first time an ordinary storyteller, a novelist, a short story writer, a poet, a playwright, in certain cases a composer, an artist, or even an opera singer could achieve a tremendous eminence by becoming morally indignant about some public issue. It required no intellectual effort whatsoever. Suddenly he was elevated to a plane from which he could look down upon ordinary people. Conversely — this fascinates me — conversely, if you are merely a brilliant scholar, merely someone who has added immeasurably to the sum of human knowledge and the powers of human insight, that does not qualify you for the eminence of being an intellectual.

Christian College Commencement Addresses

DreamsByron Borger of Hearts & Minds Books plugs Serious Dreams: Bold Ideas for the Rest of Your Life.  It is a collection of commencement addresses from Christian colleges.  It is important to realize that not all Christian college commencement addresses are like the one delivered in Lynchburg, VA this past weekend at a school presided over by one of the Court Evangelicals.

I was sad for the students at Liberty University that their commencement speaker this year wasn’t going to offer a spiritually-mature, eloquent, Biblical message of the sort that good evangelicals are used to on their special day. When I heard that Mr. Falwell thought the talk was great, I figured he must not have heard truly great and truly Christian commencements talks from seriously Christian colleges. If teachers, parents or students from Liberty (or anyone) wants to know what a good address from a Christian college could be like, read this moving collection from some notable speakers — John M. Perkins, Amy L. Sherman, Steven Garber, Richard Mouw, Claudia Beversluis, Nicholas Wolterstorff, Byron Borger, Erica Young Reitz — of graduation messages delivered at Messiah College, Seattle Pacific University, Calvin College, Geneva College, Malone University, Covenant Theological Seminary. These are great little chapters with substantive, inspiring messages.

And while we are at it, in the comments section of my recent Falwell Jr. post, “Generous Matters” writes:

Too bad Jerry Falwell didn’t hear the commencement address at Messiah College. Bryan Stevenson’s address was substantive, challenging, beautifully delivered, and the kind of send-off graduates of a Christian college should receive. President Trump’s address, on the other hand, was none of those things.The president did, however, pump up Jerry Falwell’s ego and provided Liberty University with a lot of free publicity. Talk about a mutual admiration society!

Court Evangelical Jerry Falwell on Trump’s Commencement Address: “I think it will go down in history as one of the greatest commencement speeches ever”

This is what a Court Evangelical sounds like:

Here is more.  Follow the link for another Falwell Jr. interview with Fox News.  I am unable to embed the video, but here is a taste of a piece at The Hill:

Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University, praised President Trump on Sunday, saying his commencement address was the “best commencement speech Liberty has ever had.” 

“Every seat was filled,” Falwell told Fox News, noting that 50,000 people showed up to see the president speak. 

Falwell, who endorsed Trump during his bid for the Republican presidential nomination, said he’s heard positive feedback for the speech.

“The feedback I’ve gotten from the Liberty community is that it was the best commencement speech Liberty has ever had and we’ve had a lot of good, just phenomenal commencement speakers over the last 44 years,” Falwell said.

“And I think it will go down in history as one of the greatest commencement speeches ever.” 

Trump during the address spoke of faith and its impact on America throughout the nation’s history.

“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,” Trump told the students.

“It is why our currency proudly declares, ‘In God We Trust,'” the president said. “And it is why we proudly proclaim that we are one nation, under God, every time we say the Pledge of Allegiance.”

Falwell praised Trump for various actions he said has helped the Christian community, including nominating a pro-life justice to the Supreme Court and for appointing “people of faith” to Cabinet positions. 

“I really believe he has done more for the Christian community in that that short, in four months time, than any other president in our lifetimes,” Falwell said.

 

Ed Ayers Delivers Commencement Address at University of Mary Washington

Ayers

Photo credit: Fredericksburg Today

Edward Ayers is the President Emeritus at the University of Richmond, an innovator in the field of digital history, and one of our best historians of the 19th-century American South.

On Saturday he delivered the commencement address at the University of Mary Washington.  Here is a taste of an article on his address at Fredericksburg Today:

He talked about tumultuous times in American history, where the country’s residents could never have predicted events such as the devastation caused by the Civil War.

“Americans could not have foreseen a war that over the next four years killed the equivalent of 8 million people today,” said Ayers, who addressed more than 5,000 students, family and friends on Ball Circle during the University’s 106th undergraduate commencement ceremony Saturday, May 13. Neither could they have realized that the largest and most powerful system of slavery in the modern world would come to an end, he said.

He reflected on UMW’s Fredericksburg campus, where history played such a vital role. “Confederate cannons occupied the very ground on which we are gathered,” said Ayers, a historian of the American South. On the same site on which the University was founded, more than 12,000 soldiers were killed, wounded or captured trying to take the ridge overlooking the city.

“You can’t look out across at all of you and be at this place without thinking that sometimes history brings redemption,” said Ayers, “to see this very piece of land that people fought about so desperately is now the scene of such a wonderful ceremony.”

Today, we are surprised by the unpredictable events of the 21st century.

“If we measure those years by political events, economic events, international events, or cultural events, things seem chaotic,” he said. “It’s hard for everyone, including young people, to get their bearings.”

The fact is, we always live in unusual times, said Ayers. While some years are better than others financially or politically, the future always moves in unforeseen ways.

“The only law of history I’ve been able to discover is that the unexpected, good and bad, always happens,” said Ayers, who served as University of Richmond’s ninth president from 2007 to 2015. “The unexpected always happens, so get used to it – or, even better, bring it about yourself. That’s a reason for anxiety, but it’s also reason for hope.”

History lives within us as much as we live within history.

“You are woven into the time and space that you share with the people with whom you sit. That’s why you are the class of 2017,” said Ayers, who currently serves as University of Richmond’s Tucker-Boatwright professor of the humanities. “It matters when you were here. You always will be a part of this moment because you live in history.”

At Mary Washington, he said, graduates have learned to deal with complexity in all its forms, knowing solutions are not often simple. They’ve learned how to deal with the ambiguity that justice and wisdom aren’t always clearly defined. They’ve learned how to deal with people whose beliefs are different from their own, and they’ve learned that people are as complex and as full of surprise as they are.

Great stuff!

Trump Will Be Back at Liberty University Next Week

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The POTUS will be delivering the Liberty University commencement address next Saturday.  Many are very excited that Trump will be there.  One donor gave the college a large painting of Trump to honor the occasion.  You can see Jerry Falwell Jr. and his son unpacking it here.

Here is a taste of Joe Heim’s Washington Post article on Trump’s visit to Lynchburg, Virginia next week:

Seniors Meredith Boyce, 22, of Rochester, Minn., and Hannah Kuster, 22, of Louisville, both voted for Trump. Aside from possible logistical headaches of security screenings for a presidential visit, they are expecting a memorable and enjoyable commencement. Like Wood, they think that Trump’s appearance will help put Liberty on the map. But they are also a bit nervous.

“There’s definitely some apprehension because he can say crazy things,” said Boyce. “I’m just praying no one does anything stupid.”

Caleb Brown, 21, a junior from High Point, N.C., says he considers it a blessing that Trump is coming. But he’s looking for more than just a stump speech.

“As long as he puts America before himself, he’ll do a lot more good than if he is just about his ego,” Brown said. “I want him to be specific, not just more rhetoric.”

For some minority students, disagreements with Trump are sharper.

Nursing student Deliani Velez walked with her friends Laina Marble and Jenna Reitz along University Drive, where speakers attached to lamp posts deliver low-decibel Christian pop and hymns as students traverse campus. Velez will be at Liberty during commencement, but won’t attend the ceremony, which is open to all students.

“I consider myself a feminist and I’m Hispanic, so that clashes a lot with Trump,” said Velez, 19, a sophomore from Springfield, Mass. “I’m not really stoked about it.”

Joshua Abrahams, 20, a freshman from Manhattan, is not a fan either.

“He’s a great businessman, but his comments are unnecessary. He insults everybody and I don’t like that,” said Abrahams, who is black. “My Caucasian friends are excited that he’s coming. My African American friends are not.”

Despite some pushback, students agreed any significant protest is unlikely. It’s not the Liberty way, they say, even for those who don’t approve of the president. Last fall, Dustin Wahl, a junior from South Dakota, founded Liberty United Against Trump. He and approximately 2,000 others in the Liberty community signed a statement that read in part, “Not only is Donald Trump a bad candidate for president, he is actively promoting the very things that we as Christians ought to oppose.” But Wahl, who will attend commencement to see his girlfriend and other friends graduate, doesn’t anticipate any fireworks.

Read the rest here.

Trump is Heading Back to Liberty University…

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…as the university’s 2017 commencement speaker.  I wonder who got dumped to make room, at this late date, for The Donald.

Here is a report from The Chronicle of Higher Education:

Liberty University announced on Wednesday that its commencement in May would feature President Trump as the keynote speaker, making him the first sitting president to play that role at the Christian university since George H.W. Bush, in 1990.

The invitation from Liberty’s president, Jerry Falwell Jr., may not be a surprise given his associations with the U.S. president. Some students protested Mr. Falwell’s endorsement of Mr. Trump during last year’s campaign. In January, President Trump asked him to head a new task force to recommend changes in the Department of Education’s policies and procedures.

“It is a tremendous honor and privilege for any university to host a sitting U.S. president, and we are incredibly grateful to have President Trump be a part of this historic day,” Mr. Falwell said in a statement.

At the University of Notre Dame, where six presidents dating to Dwight D. Eisenhower have spoken at commencements during their first year in office, this year an invitation was extended instead to Vice President Mike Pence. Notre Dame’s president, the Rev. John I. Jenkins, has criticized Mr. Trump, saying his executive order banning travelers from some Muslim-majority countries would “demean our nation.”

President Trump told CBN News: “I look forward to speaking to this amazing group of students on such a momentous occasion. Our children truly are the future, and I look forward to celebrating the success of this graduating class as well as sharing lessons as they embark on their next chapter full of hope, faith, optimism, and a passion for life.”

You can read CBN’s David Brody’s report here.

Get caught up on what we have written about Trump and Liberty University over the past year or two here.

The 300 Best Commencement Addresses Ever Delivered

The folks at National Public Radio have chosen 300 addresses going back to 1774.  They include speeches by Al Gore, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Anne Lamott, Barack Obama, Barbara Kingsolver, Bill Clinton, Bill Cosby, Billy Jean King, Bobby Knight, Bono, Conan O’Brien, David Brooks, David McCullough Jr, David Foster Wallace, Dwight Eisenhower, Ellen DeGeneres, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Fred Rogers, George Plimpton, George W. Bush, Gerald Ford, Hank Aaron, John F. Kennedy, Jon Stewart, Ken Burns, Lyndon Baines Johnson, Martha Nussbaum, Meryl Streep, Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Stephen Colbert, Steve Jobs, Sting, Susan Sontag, Dr. Seuss, Tim Russert, Tom Hanks, and Will Ferrell.

The following speakers had multiple addresses make the list.  (Only David Brooks had more than two that made the list):

Arianna Huffington (Smith, 2013; Sarah Lawrence, 2011)
Barack Obama (Michigan, 2010; Arizona State, 2009)
Bill Cosby (Carnegie Mellon, 2007; Temple University, 2007)
David Brooks (Wake Forest, 2007, Rice, 2011, Sewanee, 2013)
John F. Kennedy (Yale, 1962; American, 1963)
Kurt Vonnegut (Hobart and William Smith, 1974; Agnes Scott, 1999)
Madeleine Albright (Wellesley, 2007; Harvard, 1997)
Meryl Streep (Barnard, 2010; Vassar, 1983)
Stephen Colbert (Northwestern, 2011; Virginia, 2013)
Susan Sontag (Vassar, 2003; Wellesley, 1983)
Wynton Marsalis (Connecticut College, 2001, Vermont, 2013)

NPR missed this one:

You Are Not Special

Have you heard yet about David McCullough Jr.’s commencement address at Wellesley High School, one of the top public high schools in the country?  (And yes, he is the son of the historian/writer David McCullough. He teaches English at the school).

He told his students that they are NOT special.

In case you do not want to spend 13 minutes listening to McCullough, here is a taste of his speech:

“But, Dave,” you cry, “Walt Whitman tells me I’m my own version of perfection!  Epictetus tells me I have the spark of Zeus!”  And I don’t disagree.  So that makes 6.8 billion examples of perfection, 6.8 billion sparks of Zeus.  You see, if everyone is special, then no one is.  If everyone gets a trophy, trophies become meaningless.  In our unspoken but not so subtle Darwinian competition with one another–which springs, I think, from our fear of our own insignificance, a subset of our dread of mortality — we have of late, we Americans, to our detriment, come to love accolades more than genuine achievement.  We have come to see them as the point — and we’re happy to compromise standards, or ignore reality, if we suspect that’s the quickest way, or only way, to have something to put on the mantelpiece, something to pose with, crow about, something with which to leverage ourselves into a better spot on the social totem pole.  No longer is it how you play the game, no longer is it even whether you win or lose, or learn or grow, or enjoy yourself doing it…  Now it’s “So what does this get me?”  As a consequence, we cheapen worthy endeavors, and building a Guatemalan medical clinic becomes more about the application to Bowdoin than the well-being of Guatemalans.  It’s an epidemic — and in its way, not even dear old Wellesley High is immune… one of the best of the 37,000 nationwide, Wellesley High School… where good is no longer good enough, where a B is the new C, and the middle level curriculum is called Advanced College Placement.  And I hope you caught me when I said “one of the best.”  I said “one of the best” so we can feel better about ourselves, so we can bask in a little easy distinction, however vague and unverifiable, and count ourselves among the elite, whoever they might be, and enjoy a perceived leg up on the perceived competition.  But the phrase defies logic.  By definition there can be only one best.  You’re it or you’re not.
          
 If you’ve learned anything in your years here I hope it’s that education should be for, rather than material advantage, the exhilaration of learning.  You’ve learned, too, I hope, as Sophocles assured us, that wisdom is the chief element of happiness.  (Second is ice cream…  just an fyi)  I also hope you’ve learned enough to recognize how little you know… how little you know now… at the moment… for today is just the beginning.  It’s where you go from here that matters.
           
 As you commence, then, and before you scatter to the winds, I urge you to do whatever you do for no reason other than you love it and believe in its importance.  Don’t bother with work you don’t believe in any more than you would a spouse you’re not crazy about, lest you too find yourself on the wrong side of a Baltimore Orioles comparison.  Resist the easy comforts of complacency, the specious glitter of materialism, the narcotic paralysis of self-satisfaction.  Be worthy of your advantages.  And read… read all the time… read as a matter of principle, as a matter of self-respect.  Read as a nourishing staple of life.  Develop and protect a moral sensibility and demonstrate the character to apply it.  Dream big.  Work hard.  Think for yourself.  Love everything you love, everyone you love, with all your might.  And do so, please, with a sense of urgency, for every tick of the clock subtracts from fewer and fewer; and as surely as there are commencements there are cessations, and you’ll be in no condition to enjoy the ceremony attendant to that eventuality no matter how delightful the afternoon….