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Publius / May 18, 2015

George W. Bush Gives SMU Keynote Address

On Saturday, former president George W. Bush delivered the keynote address to the 2015 graduates of Southern Methodist University. Below are the highlights of our witty and ever humble 43rd President.

“You know, when I mentioned this speech to some pals, they were surprised I was going to give it. I haven’t given a commencement speech since leaving office. You know, my decision is quite practical. So I got a call from my landlord, [SMU president] Gerald Turner. Rather than raising the rent or threatening to withhold our security deposit I was relieved to hear President Turner ask if I believed in free speech. I said yeah. He said, ‘Perfect. Here’s your chance to give one.’”

“I congratulate the parents who have sacrificed to make this moment possible. It is a glorious day when your child graduates from college — and a really great day for your bank account.”

“To those of you who are graduating this afternoon with high honors, awards, and distinctions, I say, ‘Well done.’ And as I like to tell the ‘C’ students: You, too, can be president.”

“Will you be optimistic and hopeful, or pessimistic and cynical? … Participate in your nation’s civic life as citizens, not spectators. You’ll come to learn that who you are is more important than what you have — and that you have responsibilities to your fellow citizens, your country, and your family. By taking part in American democracy, you will make our country stronger.”

“You live in a land that is compassionate and decent. Because we believe in the rights and dignity of our own citizenry, we are committed to defending the rights and dignity of people everywhere. America has liberated millions around the world from tyranny and terror. We’ve helped turn the tide against deadly disease in places like Africa. In our hearts we believe all are created equal under God. The liberty we prize is not America’s gift to the world, it is Almighty God’s gift to humanity.”

“Winston Churchill, a leader of courage and resolve, inspired me during my presidency — and, for that matter, in the post-presidency. Like Churchill, I now paint. Unlike Churchill, the painting isn’t worth much without the signature. In 1941, he gave a speech to the students of his old school during Britain’s most trying times in World War II. It wasn’t too long, and it is well-remembered. Prime Minister Churchill urged, ‘Never give in … in nothing, great or small, large or petty. Never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense.’ I hope you’ll remember this advice. But there’s a lesser-known passage from that speech that I also want to share with you: ‘These are not dark days. These are great days. The greatest our country has ever lived; and we must all thank God that we have been allowed, each of us according to our stations, to play a part in making these days memorable in the history of our race.’ When Churchill uttered these words, many had lost hope in Great Britain’s chance for survival against the Nazis. Many doubted the future of freedom. Today, some doubt America’s future, and they say our best days are behind us. I say, given our strengths — one of which is a bright new generation like you — these are not dark days. These are great days.”

“[Y]ou can be hopeful because there is a loving God. Whether you agree with that statement or not is your choice. It is not your government’s choice. It is essential to this nation’s future that we remember that the freedom to worship who we want, and how we want — or not worship at all — is a core belief of our founding. I have made my choice. I believe that the Almighty’s grace and unconditional love will sustain you. I believe it will bring you joy amidst the trials of life. It will enable you to better see the beauty around you. It will provide a solid foundation amidst a rapidly changing, somewhat impersonal, technologically driven world. It will show you how to love your neighbor, forgive more easily, and approach success with humility — and failure without fear. It will inspire you to honor your parents and eventually be a better spouse and parent yourself. It will help you fully grasp the value of life — all life. It will remind you that money, power, and fame are false idols. And I hope and believe that God’s love will inspire you to serve others.”

Read the entire address here.

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