“Go forth and turn your dreams into action,” an uncharacteristically chipper Donald Trump told thousands of young adults today. “Never stop fighting for what you believe in.”
Trump gave the commencement address at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, this morning, telling the evangelical Christian school’s graduates to defy expectations, keep faith in God, and fight against established systems. More than 50,000 people attended today’s ceremony, breaking Liberty’s previous record of 38,000; it is only the second time a sitting president has given the school’s graduation speech. (“We love setting records. We have to set records. We have no choice!” Trump boasted at the start of his speech.)
The president—who received a hearty welcome, in the starkest possible contrast to the jeers that greeted education secretary Betsy DeVos when she spoke at a historically black university earlier this week—arrived at Liberty’s stage trailing a week of scandal: his firing of FBI director James Comey on Tuesday has set off renewed speculation over Russia’s possible meddling in the November election, as well as rampant media criticism of presidential overreach. Trump mentioned none of this in his speech, instead boasting of his accomplishments and congratulating graduates on their “totally brilliant future.”
According to Reuters, Trump’s speech was co-authored by Jerry Falwell Jr., the school’s president, who was a key figure in drumming up evangelical support during Trump’s campaign. It was peppered with meaningless clichés:
To the class of 2017 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 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 the blessings and 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? 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 came easy … It’s called the road less traveled.
Trump also delivered against-the-status-quo remarks that seemed lifted straight off the standard graduation speaker template:
No one has ever achieved anything significant without a chorus of critics standing on the sidelines saying it can’t be done. Nothing is easier or more pathetic than being a critic, because they can’t get it done. But the future belongs to the dreamers, not to the critics …
Be unafraid to challenge entrenched interests and failed power structures. The more people tell you it’s not possible and 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, because it’s the outsiders that change the world and make a real and lasting difference. The more a broken system tells you you’re wrong, the more certain you should be that you must keep pushing ahead. And always have the courage to be yourself.
Most importantly, you have to do what you love. You have to do what you love. Or you most likely won’t be very successful at it. So do what you love.
The two other themes Trump heavily drilled upon during his half-hour speech were God and football.