10:51 A.M. EDT
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, hello, Liberty! (Applause.) President Falwell and the board of trustees; my friend, Dr. Ben Carson; faculty, family, distinguished guests: It is an honor for us to be here in Williams Stadium with 20,000 liberty-loving “champions for Christ” for the 46th Commencement Ceremony of the Liberty University Class of 2019! (Applause.) You did it!
And I want to thank you, Jerry. Thank you for those overly generous words. I’m deeply humbled to be here with you and honored by your esteem. But with so many families here, I only wish that my parents could’ve heard that introduction. (Laughter.) My father would’ve enjoyed it, and my mother would’ve believed it. (Laughter.)
But all kidding aside, we are so grateful to you, Jerry, and Becky, and your entire family for your friendship, for your leadership, and for the honor of joining you today. It is my great honor to be here with you and the largest graduating class ever at Liberty University. Thank you for the honor. (Applause.)
And as I begin, let me bring greetings from a great friend of Liberty, who gave his first commencement address as President of the United States from this very podium just two years ago. I told him yesterday that I was going to be with you all today. So allow me to pass along the congratulations —
(Microphone technical difficulties.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: — of the President of the United States of America. I bring congratulations and greetings from President Donald Trump. (Applause.)
That was fun. (Laughter.)
And let me also say it’s a real joy to be here with — really, the most special person in my life. She’s a Marine Corps mom, she’s a champion for military families, she’s an elementary school teacher. She actually taught six of today’s graduates today. Would you welcome my wife of 33 years, the Second Lady of the United States of America, Karen Pence, to Liberty University today? (Applause.)
You know, Karen and I couldn’t be happier to be back on this beautiful campus. We paid our first visit to Liberty Mountain during the final weeks of the 2016 campaign, and even though we spent only a few hours here, we could tell that there was something special about this place.
When you opened your doors in 1971, Liberty had just 154 students. And in 1985, your founder, the Reverend Jerry Falwell Sr., set what then seemed to be an impossible goal: He said that by the early 21st century, Liberty would have a student body of 50,000 men and women. But the truth is, even Jerry Falwell Sr. didn’t foresee how Liberty would grow. It is amazing to think that more than 100,000 men and women are receiving a Liberty education today. (Applause.)
As Dr. Falwell once said, it was his “conviction that whatever [was] required to make a good Christian also makes a good citizen.” And from what I’ve seen and heard of this graduating class of 2019, I know that to be true. This is a remarkable class and remarkable achievements. And you all ought to be proud.
This year’s graduating class is from 50 states and more than 80 nations around the world. The oldest graduate is 87 — (applause) — and the youngest graduate is 17. (Applause.)
Nearly 6,000 students graduated with honors. And as we already celebrated, more than 6,000 graduates are in the United States military or have military family ties. Thank you again for your service to the United States of America. (Applause.)
Also among you are scholars, musicians, artists, and, of course, athletes, who led your men’s basketball team all the way to the second round of the NCAA tournament this year. Let’s hear it for Coach Ritchie McKay, the 2019 Jim Phelan National Coach of the Year. Well done, Coach! (Applause.)
But, you know, more impressive than your many achievements in the classroom and in athletics are the acts of kindness that have demonstrated the character of this class of 2019.
I learned that Liberty students have actually performed more than a half a million hours of community service. And nearly 2,000 of your faculty and students performed roughly 9,300 hours of community service in the Lynchburg community in the month of April alone. (Applause.) That’s a remarkable record of charity and support.
A few days ago, I actually received a letter from one of your graduates, who I had the pleasure of meeting during a service at the Capitol just last year. He wrote to me that he came to Liberty to study a profession that he dreamed of doing as a child. He said he’d be honored to be able to serve his community and his nation; to be able to put on a badge. You see, he’s a police officer who puts his life on the line for us each and every day.
And today, Officer James Belcher is graduating with a degree in criminal justice. Congratulations, Officer Belcher. (Applause.) Where are ya? Thank you for your service. And congratulations to all the Liberty graduating class of 2019. Let’s hear it for this extraordinary group of young men and women. (Applause.)
You know, this is a great day, but I can tell, looking out at all of you, that you know you didn’t get here on your own. You know, there’s an old saying back in the state of Indiana that when you see a box turtle on a fence post, one thing you know for sure: he had help getting there. (Laughter.) And I know that’s true of all of you.
For the last four years, your professors, and the faculty, and the administration here at Liberty have poured themselves into your lives. The friends you made here, who studied with you, who prayed with you, and reassured you during those anxious days of papers and exams — I’ll let you in on something: They’re going to be some of the best friends you ever have in your life. And that won’t change.
But most important of all, long before you arrived on this campus, your parents were there. And they’re here today. Every step of the way, they were encouraging you, supporting you, believing in you. And on this Mother’s Day weekend, I can’t help but think of the moms who drove you to school, helped you with your homework, took you to games, and they got you dressed on that first day, and they hugged you on the last one. Can we just ask all the moms who are here with us today to stand up and take a bow? (Applause.) The Class of 2019 knows they wouldn’t be here without you.
Today, you, the Class of 2019, will graduate from an extraordinary university. You’ll enter new careers and new endeavors. And they say timing is everything. And, Class of 2019, I just want to tell you, you picked a great time to graduate because after two years of the leadership of President Donald Trump, jobs are coming back and America is back. You are entering a growing American economy. (Applause.) It’s true.
The America that awaits your energies and ambitions is experiencing a new era of opportunity and optimism. You’re beginning your careers at a time when this economy is growing. And we’ve restored American stature at home and abroad.
Businesses large and small, in little more than the last two years, have created more than 5.8 million jobs. Unemployment is at a nearly 50-year low. And there are more Americans working today than ever before in the history of this country. And this year, for the first time ever, there are more job openings in America than there are Americans looking for work. That’s good timing, Liberty! (Applause.)
Not that Liberty graduates are going to have any trouble finding a job. I can promise you, the Liberty name carries great weight with employers all over the country. And I should know. I’m proud to say there are actually four Liberty alumni on the Vice President’s staff at the White House today. And we’re proud of each and every one of them. (Applause.)
So the American economy is soaring, and you all ought to know that prosperity didn’t just happen. Since day one of our administration, President Trump and I have been advancing the very principles and values that you studied and learned here at Liberty — principles and values that are making our country strong and great again.
We’ve been rebuilding our military, standing with our allies, and standing up to our enemies. And under this administration, if the world knows nothing else, the world knows this: America stands with Israel. (Applause.)
Here at home, we’ve been expanding freedom, cutting taxes, rolling back the regulatory state, returning authority to the people and the states. And we’ve been upholding the foundation of our laws by defending — or by nominating strong conservatives to our courts at every level. And I promise you, as of this last week, 103 judges confirmed to our courts. And every one of them will uphold all the God-given liberties enshrined in the Constitution of the United States. (Applause.)
You’re entering an America where you have a President and an administration that is standing strong for all the liberties we cherish: the freedom of speech, the freedom of religion. And we stand without apology for the sanctity of human life. (Applause.)
The truth is, when you leave Liberty Mountain, you’re going to find an America filled with promise. And I know the men and women of the Class of 2019 will thrive because you have the support of your families, you’ve gotten a tremendous education, and because, here at Liberty, it was all built on a foundation that cannot be shaken. And I know what I’m talking about.
You know, maybe like many of you graduates today, I was raised in a churched home. But by the time I got to high school, I was one of those people who still went to church, but I was just going through the motions. I decided to go my own way.
I got to college though, and I started to meet some people that I could tell had something I lacked. It wasn’t just confidence or an easy familiarity with success. I really knew they had something that I didn’t have. And the only way I could describe it was joy. They seemed to have a peace, regardless of their circumstances. And I was drawn to them.
So I decided to start attending a Christian fellowship on campus. I had this friend who was wearing a really cool cross around his neck, and so I started asking him where he got it so I could get one. It’s true. Frankly, I started to pester him about it.
And I’ll never forget the day I went up to him and I said, “Hey man, you know, I’ve decided to go ahead and do the Christian thing. So, I want to get one of those crosses you wear, so let me know where you got it.”
And he looked at me and said something that I’ll never forget. He looked me in the eye and he said, “Mike, you know, you got to wear it in your heart before you wear it around your neck.” (Applause.)
And I wrestled with those words for days. I didn’t know what he meant, but I knew there was truth in it.
A few weeks later, I found myself at a youth Christian music festival in Wilmore, Kentucky. I listened to a sermon or two all day long, and I heard those words I’d heard ever since I was a little boy, 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 rainy Saturday night, I heard it differently. Sitting on that hillside, I realized that also meant that God so loved me that he gave his only son to save me. 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. (Applause.)
So, I say, not so much as your Vice President, 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, go from here and live it out, share it, because America needs men and women of integrity and faith now more than ever. (Applause.) It’s true.
The truth is, we live in a time when the freedom of religion is under assault. Yesterday, I was informed by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom that today Christians suffer more persecution around the world than any other religion. In fact, the United Kingdom released a report just last week that said persecution of Christians worldwide is “near genocide levels.”
In the last few months, we’ve seen unspeakable attacks on people of faith — on Jewish synagogues in Pennsylvania and California, on mosques in New Zealand, Christian churches in Sri Lanka, and on three historically black churches in Louisiana.
No one should ever fear for their safety in a place of worship, and these attacks on people of faith must stop. (Applause.)
One week ago, I was standing before the charred remains of Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Louisiana. And I must tell you, I was deeply inspired by the example of Pastor Gerald Toussaint. He’s a pastor at one of the three churches that was burned. But he was the one that said on the day that they arrested the arsonist, he said, quote, “We’ve got to forgive him.” And Pastor Toussaint brought a community together with faith and grace. They overcame evil with good. (Applause.)
And that’s the kind of faith we need to see more of in these divided times — faith that unites on a foundation of grace.
Because we live in a time when it’s become acceptable and even fashionable to ridicule and even discriminate against people of faith. Dr. Carson just talked about it a few moments ago.
You know, it wasn’t all that long ago that the last administration brought the full weight of the federal government against the Little Sisters of the Poor merely because that group of nuns refused to provide a health plan that violated their deeply held religious beliefs. And when the state of Georgia recently was debating legal protections for the unborn, a bevy of Hollywood liberals said they would boycott the entire state.
And when my wife Karen returned to teach art at an elementary Christian school earlier this year, we faced harsh attacks by the media and the secular Left. And a major newspaper reporter actually started a new hashtag, called “Expose Christian Schools,” inviting students to share their “horror stories” of Christian education.
The freedom of religion is enshrined in our First Amendment and in the hearts of every American. And these attacks on Christian education are un-American. (Applause.) I’m proud to report our administration has already taken decisive action to protect religious liberty, and we’ll continue to do just that. And I promise you: We will always stand up for the right of Americans to live, to learn, and to worship God according to the dictates of their conscience. (Applause.)
The American people cherish our tradition of religious education, and as President Trump said at this very podium two years ago, on our watch, “No one is ever going to stop you from practicing your faith or from preaching what is in your heart.” That’s a promise. (Applause.)
But my message to all of you in the Class of 2019 is — derives of the moment that we’re living in today. You know, throughout most of American history, it’s been pretty easy to call yourself Christian. It didn’t even occur to people that you might be shunned or ridiculed for defending the teachings of the Bible.
But things are different now. Some of the loudest voices for tolerance today have little tolerance for traditional Christian beliefs. So as you go about your daily life, just be ready. Because you’re going to be asked not just to tolerate things that violate your faith; you’re going to be asked to endorse them. You’re going to be asked to bow down to the idols of the popular culture.
So you need to prepare your minds for action, men and women. You need to show that we can love God and love our neighbor at the same time through words and deeds. (Applause.) And you need to be prepared to meet opposition.
As the founder of this university often said, quote, “No one ever achieved greatness without experiencing opposition.”
So, men and women of Liberty University, Class of 2019, as you strive for greatness, know that you’ll face challenges, you’ll face opposition. But just know this: If, like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, you end up in the fire, there’ll be another in the fire. (Applause.)
So, Class of 2019, my word to all of you is decide here and now that you’re going to stand firm, that you’ll put into practice all the things you learned here on Liberty Mountain, that you’ll never give up, that you’ll persevere, and that you’ll always be prepared to give a reason for the hope that you have, and you’ll do so with gentleness and respect. Because our nation and our world need that message of grace and love maybe more now 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.
America has always been a nation of faith. And as our first Vice President, John Adams, said, “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 your foundation of faith and the foundation of faith among the American people, you will be strengthening the foundation of America itself. (Applause.)
So thank you for the honor of addressing you today. To all 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’s always animated this university. And have faith that He who brought you this far will never leave you, nor forsake you, because He never will.
So, Class of 2019, this is your day. The world awaits. As you leave this place, go forth for Liberty. Make Liberty proud. We will all be cheering you every step of the way. And never forget: Where the spirit of the Lord is, there’s Liberty. And I know — (applause) — right after we get done getting this country great again, you’re going to make America greater than ever before.
Congratulations, Class of 2019. You did it. (Applause.)
God bless you. And God bless America. (Applause.)