At Liberty University, President Trump Challenges Graduates to Challenge Accepted Wisdom

Jennifer Van Laar
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Posted: May 13, 2017 12:08 PM
At Liberty University, President Trump Challenges Graduates to Challenge Accepted Wisdom

After receiving an honorary Doctorate of Law degree, President Trump delivered his first commencement address as President of the United States at Liberty University Saturday.

The school's president, Jerry Falwell, Jr., was an early and extremely vocal supporter of Trump's presidency. Not all of the students were behind Falwell's endorsement, though. A group called Liberty United Against Trump issued a statement in the fall saying they were "disappointed" with Falwell's endorsement and that they were "tired of being associated with one of the worst presidential candidates in American history," but the only visible protests were off campus, organized by the Seven Hills Progressive Society.

The tone of Trump's remarks wavered between traditional commencement fare and down-to-earth humor. He led off with a joke about his unlikely ascension to the presidency.

[Here's] 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...would really require major help from God. Do we agree? And we got it.

Much of the advice he offered graduates centered on Trump's usual themes: taking on entrenched institutions, being an outsider, poking at critics, and taking risks.

  • “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 are right.”
  • "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...and just give in because it was the easy way, it was the traditional way, or it was the accepted way?"
  • "Nothing is easier or more pathetic than being a critic, because they're people who can't get the job done. But the future belongs for the dreamers, not the critics, the people who follow their heart no matter what the critics say."
  • Be totally unafraid to challenge entrenched interests and powerful power structures. The more people tell you it's not possible, it can't be done, the more you should be absolutely determined to treat them wrong.

Trump poked at Falwell, jokingly questioning his judgment in moving the school's football program to the FBS for the 2018 season - and making reference to another religious university's legendary football program, the Catholic Notre Dame (where Vice President Pence is giving the commencement address today).

[A] crucial part of Reverend Falwell’s vision for making Liberty a world-class institution was having a world-class football team, much like the great teams of Notre Dame — great school, great place.

As Liberty students cheered, Trump read off a list of schools the football team will face next season and cautioned them that it would be tough.

“Jerry, are you sure you know what you’re doing? Jerry, Auburn? I don’t know about that, Jerry. This could be trouble, Jerry.”

He ended his remarks by reminding the new graduates of the importance of tenacity and hard work. Referring to people he'd worked with over the years, he said:

They were totally brilliant...they gave up. I've seen others who really didn't have that talent or that ability but they're among the most successful people in the world because they never gave up.
Students had a laugh at Trump's expense, though, when he read a passage from 2 Corinthians, referring to it as "Two Corinthians" instead of "Second Corinthians."