Trump lauds Liberty University’s growth, urges grads to fight for their beliefs – Roanoke Times
LYNCHBURG — At Liberty University’s commencement ceremony, President Donald Trump drew parallels between his unprecedented rise to power and the growth of the country’s largest evangelical Christian university and its football team, which recently moved up into the nation’s top college football bracket.
In his first commencement speech as president, Trump pushed graduates to keep their faith and promised to protect religious organizations through measures like his executive order weakening the Johnson Amendment — an IRS rule that stipulates religious organizations that endorse political candidates can lose their tax-exempt standing.
Liberty has grown immensely in the decade following the death of Jerry Falwell Sr., Trump said as he talked about the university’s “amazing, soaring, growing campus.” The rise of Liberty should empower graduates to take the road less traveled, he said.
Don’t be afraid to be an outsider, stand up to failed power structures and never stop fighting for your beliefs, Trump said to about 50,000 people in Liberty’s Williams Stadium.
Throughout his speech, Trump hinted at his unlikely chances of making it to the White House as a political outsider.
“Did we take risks, did we dare to defy expectations, did we challenge accepted wisdom and take on established systems?” he said. “I think I did, but we all did.”
The word impossible should be nothing more than motivation, he said.
Liberty’s commencement drew a record number of people, including more than 6,000 graduates.
Occasional bright red “Make America Great Again” hats dotted the stands. One graduate affixed a bumper sticker from Trump’s presidential campaign atop his mortarboard cap.
Trump warned attendees of a “broken” government in Washington, D.C.
“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,” he said.
Don’t let others tell you what you believe, especially when you’re convinced you’re right, he told graduates.
Americans don’t need a “lecture from Washington” on how to live. Graduates should follow their hearts and their faith for guidance. The future is crafted by people who follow their hearts, despite what critics say, Trump said.
“In America, we don’t worship government, we worship God,” he said.
Trump called the late Falwell’s life a testament to how faith can change the world. Falwell’s vision for Liberty changed Lynchburg forever. Now, the university is the largest Christian university in the country, with more than 19,000 online and residential graduates this year.
The school’s football team even outgrew its conference, Trump said as he talked about Liberty’s decision to jump into NCAA’s Football Bowl Subdivision next year.
In an unusual move for a presidential commencement speech, Trump then announced some of the football teams the Liberty Flames will face in upcoming seasons, name-dropping Virginia Tech, the University of Virginia, Auburn University and more.
Trump joked with Liberty President Jerry Falwell Jr. that the Flames face a tough road ahead on the football field.
“I’m a little worried,” he said. “I don’t want to look at some of those scores here. Jerry, you sure you know what you’re doing here?”
Nevertheless, Trump compared Liberty to the University of Notre Dame, a Midwestern Catholic college that grew into a football powerhouse.
Trump also spoke of some important executive orders he had signed in recent weeks, noting his order easing enforcement of the Johnson Amendment.
White evangelical voters, Liberty students included, overwhelmingly supported Trump in the presidential election.
Catering to his base, Trump promised his administration will always stand up for Americans who want to praise God.
“America is better when people put their faith into action,” he said. “As long as I am president, no one is going to stop you from practicing your faith or preaching what’s in your heart.”
Jerry Falwell Jr., who took over as Liberty’s president after his father’s death, praised Trump’s act weakening the Johnson Amendment, calling it a move to restore free speech to churches, religious leaders and organizations like Liberty.
He also applauded Trump’s addition of anti-abortion advocate Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court and the president’s decision to launch a military strike against Syria in response to a chemical weapons attack that killed Syrian civilians.
“Mr. Trump possesses the resolve to put his country first and to never give up in a world that is increasingly hostile to our values,” Falwell said.
Trump is the first sitting president to speak at Liberty’s graduation since George H.W. Bush visited in 1990.
As attendees filtered out of the stadium, the crowd cheered when Air Force One, departing from Lynchburg Regional Airport, flew over the campus.