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Donald Trump’s Liberty University Commencement Speech

May 15, 2017

On May 13, 2017, Donald Trump gave his first commencement speech as president, at the 2017 Liberty University ceremony.

At the ceremony, Liberty University President, Jerry Falwell, Jr., presented Trump with an honorary law doctorate.

Falwell was Trump’s first choice for US secretary of education. Falwell was not willing to make a four-year commitment to the position. However, in February 2017, Falwell agreed to lead an education task force assembled by Trump.

An advanced copy of Trump’s remarks was purportedly made public on Friday, May 12, 2017, on However, given Trump’s penchant for veering from preplanned remarks, I have transcribed Trump’s actual remarks based upon the 32-minute White House video of the event, included below.

Below is approximately half of Trump’s speech. Trump vacillated between reading his prepared remarks and offering impromptu commentary. At the end of the 17-minute transcription below, I have included a link to the entire 32-minute transcription.

In many cases, Trump’s own life decisions conflict with his advice to graduates. In some cases, he even contradicts himself within the speech, and he seems to believe that Liberty University graduates are his forever supporters.

I am reading the biography, Trump Revealed. One statement that stands out to me from my reading earlier today concerns Trump’s business practices. Commercial broker, Stephen Ifshin noted that Trump “burned through people.”

I could go on, but I will refrain.

My chief purpose in transcribing Trump’s speech is to make it easily accessible to the public.

Here we go:

Congratulations to the Class of 2017. That’s some achievement. This is your day, and you’ve earned every minute of it, and I’m thrilled to be back at Liberty University. I’ve been here, this is now my third time, and we love setting records, right? We always set records. We have to set records. We have no choice.

It’s been a little over a year since I’ve spoken on your beautiful campus, and so much has changed. Right here, 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 is some people here today who thought that either one of those things– either one– would really require major help from God. Do we agree? [applause] And we got it. [applause]

But here we are, celebrating together on this very joyous occasion. And there is no place in the world that I’d rather be to give my first commencement address as president than here with my wonderful friends at Liberty University [applause], and [applause], and I accepted this invitation a long time ago. I said to [Liberty University President] Jerry [Falwell, Jr.] that I would be there, and when I say something, I mean it. [delayed applause]

I want to thank President Jerry Falwell and his incredible wife, Becky– stand up, Becky– for their kind words, their steadfast support, and their really wonderful friendship. Let me also extend our appreciation to the entire Falwell family– Trey, Sarah, Wesley, Laura, and Caroline– thank you for everything you do to make this university so exceptional– one of the truly great, great schools. Most importantly, to our new graduates, each of you should take immense pride in what you have achieved.

There’s another group of amazing people we want to celebrate today, and they are the ones who have made this journey possible for you, and you know who that is? Nobody, you forgot already. You gonna go out; you gonna do whatever you gonna do. Some are gonna make a lot of money. Some are gonna be even happier doing other things. They’re your parents and your grandparents. Don’t forget them. [applause] You haven’t forgotten yet, have you? [applause] Never, ever forget them. They’re great.

And especially this weekend, let’s make sure we give a really extra special thanks to the moms. [applause] Don’t forget our moms, ’cause graduates, today is your day. Today is your day, but, in all of this excitement, don’t forget that tomorrow is Mothers Day, right?

I had a great mother. She’s looking down now, but I had a great mother. I always loved Mothers Day.

We’re also deeply honored to be joined by some of the nearly 6,000 service members, military veterans, and military spouses who are receiving their diplomas today. [applause] Would you please stand. [applause] Please stand. [applause] Wow. [Trump claps.]

That’s great. [applause] Thank you very much. Great job. We’re profoundly grateful to every single one of you who sacrificed to keep us safe and to protect God’s precious gift of freedom. It is truly a testament to this university and to the values that you embrace that your graduating class includes so many patriots who have served our country in uniform. Thank you very much.

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, 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 of the blessings 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?

I think I did, but, we all did, and we’re all doing it.

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, ever, ever came easy. Following your convictions means you must be willing to face criticism from those who lack the same courage to do what is right– and they know what is right– but they don;t have the courage or the guts or the stamina to take it and to do it. It’s called The Road Less Traveled.

I know that each of you will be a warrior for the truth, will be a warrior for our country, and for your family. I know that each of you will do what is right, not what is the easy way, and that you will be true to yourself and your country and your beliefs.

In my short time in Washington, I’ve seen firsthand how they system is broken. 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. [delayed applause]

And those of you graduating here today who have given half a million hours of charity last year alone, unbelievable amount of work and charity, and few universities or colleges can claim anything even close.

We don’t need a lecture from Washington on how to lead our lives.

I’m standing here looking at the next generation of American leaders. There may very well be a president or two in our midst. Anybody think tey’re going to be president, raise your hand. [applause]

In your hearts are inscribed the values of service, sacrifice, and devotion. Now, you must go forth into the world and turn your hopes and your dreams into action. America has always been the land of dreams because America is a nation of true believers. When the pilgrims landed at Plymouth, they prayed. When the founders wrote the Declaration of Independence, they invoked “our Creator” four times because in America, we don’t worship government; we worship God. [applause]

That is why our elected officials put their hands on the bible and say, “so help me God,” as they take the oath of office. It is why our currency proudly declares, “In God We Trust.” And it’s why we proudly proclaim that we are “one nation, under God” every time we say the Pledge of Allegiance.

The story of America is the story of an adventure that began with deep faith, big dreams, and humble beginnings. That is also the story of Liberty University.

When I think about the visionary founder of this great institution, Reverend Jerry Falwell, Senior, I can only imagine how excited he would be if he could see all of this and all of you today and how proud he would be of his son and of his family. In just two days, we will mark the tenth anniversary of Revered Falwell’s passing. I used to love watching him on television, hearing him preach. He was a very special man. He would be so proud, not just at what you’ve achieved, but of the young men and women of character that you’ve all become. And, Jerry, I know your dad is looking down on you right now, and he is proud, he is very proud. [applause] So, congratulations on a great job. [applause]

Reverend Falwell’s life is a testament to the power of faith to change the world. The inspiring legacy that we see all around us in this great stadium, this is a beautiful stadium, and it is packed. I’m so happy about that. I said, “How are you gonna fill up a place like that?” It is packed, Jerry.

In this beautiful campus, and in your smiling faces, but it all began with a vision. That vision was of a world-class university for evangelical Christians. And I want to thank you because, boy, did you come out and vote, thos of you that are old enough. In other words, your parents. [cheers and applause] Boy, oh, boy. You voted. [applause] You voted.

No doubt, many people told him his vision was impossible, and I am sure they continued to say that so long after he started, at the beginning with just one hundred and fifty-four students. But the fact is, no one has ever achieved anything significant without a chorus of critics standing on the sidelines explaining why it can’t be done.

Nothing is easier or more pathetic than being a critic ’cause they’re people that can’t get the job done. But the future belongs to the dreamers, not to the critics. The future belongs to the people who follow their heart no matter what the critics say because they truly believe in their vision. At Liberty, your leaders knew from the very beginning that a strong athletic program would help this campus grow so that this school might transform more lives. That is why 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. In fact, Vice President Mike Pence is there today, doing a fabulous job, as he always does. [applause]

A few years ago, the New York Times even wrote a story on the great ambitions of the Liberty Flames. That story prompted a long-time president of another school to write a letter to Jerry. It’s a letter that Reverend Falwell would have been very, very pleased to read. Jerry tells me that letter now hangs in the wall in the board room of your great university. It came from the late Father Theodore Hesburgh, who was the beloved president of the University of Notre Dame 35 years ago. Like this school’s founder, he was a truly kindhearted man of very, very deep faith. In the letter, Father Hesburgh recalled that Notre Dame’s own meteoric rise from a small. Midwestern school to a national football powerhouse.

And then he wrote something so amazing and generous: He wrote, “I think you are on that same trajectory now, and I want to wish you all the best and encourage you from the starting and from being able to start very small, and arriving in the big time.” Thanks to hard work, great faith, and incredible devotion, those dreams have come true. As of February of this year, the Liberty Flames are playing in the FBS, the highest level of competition in NCAA football. [applause] Don’t clap. That could be tough. [applause] Don’t clap. That could be tough. I’m a little worried. I don’t want to look at some of those scores and say, “Jerry, are you sure you know what you’re doing here?” [laughter] Those other players are big, and fast, and strong, but I have a feeling you’re going to do very well, right?

From the most humble roots, you’ve become a powerhouse in both education and sports. And just wait until the world hears the football teams you’ll be playing on your schedule starting next season. President Falwell gave me a list of some of those schools, the one’s you’re going to be playing 2018. Would you like me to read the names, just came out? Would you like to hear them? [applause] I’m a little bit concerned. [applause]

UMass, Virginia, Auburn– Jerry, are you sure you know what you’re doing? [laughter] Jerry, Auburn. [To someone on stage.] I don’t know about that, James. This could be trouble, Jerry. Rutgers, Old Dominion, Brigham Young, Army– I might be at that game. Who am I supposed to root for? Tell me. [laughter] I don’t know. [laughter] That’s a tough one, Jerry. I don;t know, Jerry. I’m gonna have to think about that one, Jerry.

Buffalo, Troy, Virginia Tech– oh, no, Jerry– Ole Miss and Wake Forest. Those are really top schools. That’s, maybe in four or five years, I’ll come to a game, right? You’ll build it up? [laughter] Well, good luck.

The success of your athletic program arriving on the big stage should be a reminder to every new graduate of just what you can achieve when you start small, pursue a big vision, and never, ever quit. You never quit.

To read the rest of Trump’s Liberty University remarks, click here for the full transcript.


Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

From → Higher Ed

One Comment
  1. Monty Thornburg permalink

    Jesus warned about the false spokesman. In this case tRump is FALSE. People don’t worship government in the U.S. Patriots, and past Presidents have been loyal to the Constitution and protecting the American people. With recent events this President is not only FALSE but quite possibly a traitor to that which he took an oath. An oath that includes the Bill of Rights. The Constitution includes the RIGHT to worship God, or not. He neither understands the Bible nor the Constitution and is incompetent to be Commander and Chief.

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