President George W. Bush offered what he called “a few thoughts about how you can make your mark in the world” when he delivered the May 14 commencement address at Concordia University Wisconsin, at Mequon.
The commencement assembly first watched on giant video screens as Air Force One touched down at Milwaukee’s Mitchell Field and as the president spoke to those greeting him there, including Concordia student Rebecca Haupt.
“Wherever you are headed,” Bush later told about 5,000 gathered in the university’s field house — including 420 who were graduating — “I urge you to do the work nearest you, and help to build a more compassionate society.”
He said there are three things “America needs” from the new graduates: “… your efforts and energy in the fight against poverty and despair. … your good heart in meeting a basic responsibility: to protect and honor life in all its seasons. … [and] your idealism to show the good heart of our country to the whole world.”
“Many of today’s graduates are on your way to full-time ministry, and that commitment is one of the greatest that a man or woman can make,” Bush told the graduates.
He drew frequent applause from the assembly, including when he said, “In the Lutheran tradition, all work — in an office, on a farm, in the home, or in the halls of government — should be done to the glory of God. And that is accomplished by doing our work with excellence, and care, and an awareness of the needs around us.”
He spoke of finding “examples in great lives,” mentioning Martin Luther, “who changed history and your own lives with an act of conscience,” and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
“The Church is the Church only when it exists for others,” the president said, quoting Bonhoeffer.
“This teaching of faith is confirmed in our daily experience,” Bush said. “Many of us find that there is much more to life than getting and keeping. True fulfillment comes with the responsibilities we assume: to care for our families, and to love a neighbor as we want to be loved ourselves. This is more than a familiar saying; it is the foundation of a meaningful life.”
He said that is also true in the life of the United States.
“Our own country, at its best, strives to be compassionate, and this isn’t easy,” he said. “Compassion is not merely a vague feeling of empathy, it is a demanding virtue. It involves action and effort, and deep conviction — a conviction as old as Scripture and present at the founding of our country. We believe that everyone has a place and a purpose in this world, that every life matters, that no insignificant person was ever born.”
He spoke of “fellow citizens” serving in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The assembly applauded each sentence as he said, “Their mission is like others we have given to past generations in our military: to defeat the violent and rescue the innocent. The mission of our military is also vital to the interests of America: We will not allow Afghanistan and Iraq to fall under the control of radicals and terrorists who are intent on our own destruction. On these matters, the compassion and the vital interests of our country speak as one: For the sake of peace, for the sake of security, we will stand for freedom.”
In a reference to the reports of prisoner abuse in Iraq, he said, “… the cruelty of a few has brought discredit to their uniform and embarrassment to our country. Yet, those failures cannot diminish the honor and achievement of more than 200,000 military who have served in Iraq since the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The character of the men and women who wear our uniform has been shown in countless acts of goodness and decency and unselfish courage.”
Bush noted that six members of the Concordia Wisconsin graduating class are in the military, “and we thank them all,” he said.
At the beginning of his remarks, Bush also spoke of Scott Eichstaedt, a 2000 graduate of the university and a Secret Service agent.
“He can’t rise for applause because he’s working,” Bush quipped. “But I want his parents to know he’s doing a really fine job.”
Concordia President Patrick Ferry gave Bush an honorary doctor of laws degree from the university.
“I kind of like the sound, ‘Dr. Bush,'” he said to laughter and applause. “I don’t think Laura is going to call me that.”
Ferry also presented the university’s Regents Award to Gen. (Ret.) John W. Vessey, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff now living in Garrison, Minn., who Bush congratulated as “a fine officer who served our country with distinction and honor.”
Thanking the university and the audience for “the warm welcome and the honorary degree,” Bush said he was leaving “a proud member of the Concordia University Wisconsin Class of 2004.”
“It was truly a remarkable, momentous occasion,” Ferry told Reporter. “The atmosphere was electric and the president was extremely well received.”
To read the entire text of President Bush’s address to Concordia graduates, go to http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2004/05/20040514-4.html .
Posted May 17, 2004