Chancellor Jerry Falwell, Jr. had promised students, faculty and staff a big-name speaker for Friday’s convocation, kicking off Homecoming and Alumni Weekend at Liberty University. Fox News Channel’s Sean Hannity was scheduled, but cancelled late Thursday afternoon due to illness. So Falwell quickly got on his phone and email to find a replacement. After five minutes of receiving an email, Karl Rove, former White House Deputy Chief of Staff, responded with a “yes.”
But Hannity was not forgotten. At the end of the service, he was able to call in for an interview with Falwell at the podium.
Rove, who served as President George Bush’s senior adviser from 2001-2007, was Liberty’s commencement speaker in 2004. Before Rove took the stage Friday, he said he was glad to be returning to the campus.
“It’s a great school. It’s inspired vision — I mean, you think about how far it’s come so quickly,” he said. “I was really impressed when I came here several years ago, with the students. So many of them are the first in their families to go to college, it’s a diverse student body — all 50 states, 80 countries.”
Rove said he has had employees and interns at the White House who were Liberty students and graduates, and it has always been a great experience.
“There’s a very, very high quality education here; it instills a great set of values and a good work ethic,” he said. “I don’t know whether that happens by people coming here and getting it here or whether it just simply draws those kind of people, but whatever happens, people who graduate from this school have a good reputation for hard work and excellence.”
His talk to the student body was about service to others. He gave several examples of his time in the White House and in travelling with the president, when he would see true acts of service from the American people — from mentors who helped single moms break free from welfare, to teachers with high credentials who could have been making three-figure salaries, to our nation’s servicemen and women.
“I came to see that service is something that is quintessentially America,” he said.
He spoke about the last act he did on the job — writing a letter to a man in Nevada who had lost his oldest son in the wars in the Middle East and who, at the age of 61, had requested a waiver so he could enter the military and give of his gifts as a successful orthopedic surgeon.
“Now, I’m not suggesting we all go out and join the Marines, but I am suggesting that it is a reminder to us of our obligations we have as Americans to, in our own way, following our own passion, at a time we consider to be right, to serve a cause greater than ourselves,” he said. “… It’s as old as the Bible itself, to love our neighbor … . It’s important as Christians, it’s important as human beings, it’s vital as Americans.”
After Rove’s talk, Falwell surprised the student body by calling Sean Hannity and playing the call on the Vines Center speakers.
Hannity, who last spoke at Liberty in April 2007, was at LU’s Commencement in 2005, where he received an honorary degree. On Friday, he apologized for not being there, saying he had been ill but was starting to feel a little better.
Interestingly, Rove is scheduled to be on Hannity’s program tonight. Hannity called Rove “a great friend. He’s probably one of the smartest politically minded in the entire country … in a time of political turmoil.”
Hannity told Falwell he is excited about what is happening at Liberty.
“This is the future leadership of America. … Right now this country is in need of a lot of leadership,” he said. “There’s a lot of kids there who are going to be going into a lot of different fields. I’m really looking forward to people of faith, people of principle, people with character, people with good values taking those positions of leadership; there’s no telling where that will take this student body, when they graduate, when they go out into the world, the impact that they’re going to have to make this world a better place.”
Falwell said Hannity was his dad’s favorite voice in the U.S. media and he appreciated Hannity “fighting the battle for freedom on the frontlines for us every day.”
In closing, Hannity told students, “There is no obstacle, there is nothing that can get in your way if you put Jesus Christ first in your life, if you put God first in your life, and you put doing what is right first in your life. There is nothing you won’t be able to achieve and great things will happen if you do it, if that priority remains in its proper order.”