As the Class of 2014 reflected on its accomplishments during Liberty University’s 41st Commencement Ceremony, they were reminded of the road ahead, and the opposition they will face. Though the world is growing increasingly hostile toward the values and liberties they hold dear, they were pointed toward their ultimate hope in God, who gives grace and power to overcome. With that in mind, they were encouraged to boldly be a light into the darkness of this world.
“You should go out into the world and be salt and light. And most of all, you should be bold in your faith and embrace opportunities to stand up for the truth,” Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, the keynote speaker, charged the graduates. “You never know when you might be planting a seed that will change someone’s life forever.”
President Jerry Falwell echoed this challenge as he conferred nearly 17,800 degrees to Liberty’s largest graduating class: “You should not find satisfaction with the commonplace in character, attitude, and values; by your example you should raise the intellectual and moral tone of society.”
This includes faith in God, integrity, and respect for your fellow man.
Spirits were high for the approximately 34,000 guests in attendance at Williams Stadium, — including more than 6,000 graduates — as academic milestones were celebrated. And, many tears of joy were shed as families, in traditional Liberty fashion, were called to remember the sacred love that binds us all.
The parents in attendance were recognized for their supporting role, as were the families that had the privilege to graduate together: siblings, parents and children, and husbands and wives. Falwell reminded the crowd that many of them, both students and alumni, met the love of their life at Liberty.
Some loved ones were unable to attend, however. Falwell called attention to Malory Mallery, who traveled all the way from Kansas to receive her associate degree in Psychology. Her husband, U.S. Army Sgt. Mark S. Mallery, currently stationed in Afghanistan, was unable to attend. Falwell surprised Malory Mallery with a video message prepared by her husband, congratulating her and expressing his sorrow for having to miss the occasion. Malory was so overwhelmed with emotion that in the moment she fell to her knees in tears.
Falwell expressed Liberty’s dedication to uphold the values and freedom Sgt. Mallery is currently fighting to protect. He explained the significance of the Baccalaureate and Commencement services, which the university uses every year respectively to focus first on God, and then on the United States of America, which was founded on freedom and equality.
He said Liberty has left a lasting impression on those who have visited its campus, even those whose beliefs do not mirror those upheld by the university.
“I believe that one reason that our Liberty community, as well as conservative Christians in general, are more respectful and more willing to listen to those who have different viewpoints is because we are confident in what we believe,” he said. “You see, if you fervently believe something and have confidence in your faith and in your worldview, you don’t feel threatened by contrary opinions.”
He said that those who fear debate are attacking religious liberty and freedom of expression, the foundation of America. He gave examples including that of Liberty alumni brothers David and Jason Benham, who just this week had an upcoming television show dropped by HGTV due to pressure from left-wing watchdogs over their personal religious views. The brothers, who were present at Commencement as Falwell’s personal guests, explained that they have been misrepresented by media reports: they love everyone, even those who do not share their beliefs, and strive to live as such. Furthermore, they do not discriminate against those with whom they disagree.
Falwell read excerpts from a statement they released to the media: “With all of the grotesque things that can be seen and heard on television today, you would think there would be room for two twin brothers who are faithful to our families, committed to biblical principles, and dedicated professionals. If our faith costs us a television show, then so be it.”
Falwell then recognized two individuals for their part in upholding American values: Gov. Jindal and the Hon. Lacey Putney. The university presented each with an honorary Doctor of Humanities degree.
Putney served consecutively from 1962 to 2013 in the Virginia House of Delegates, making him the longest-serving member in the history of the Virginia General Assembly.
Putney said that no honor he has ever received is equal to the one bestowed upon him by Liberty.
Jindal was introduced by Falwell as an innovative leader who stands committed to fiscal responsibility and Christian values. The Brown University Graduate and Oxford University Rhodes Scholar has worked as a consultant for Fortune 500 companies, as Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, executive director of the National Bipartisan Commission on the Future of Medicare, president of the University of Louisiana System, and was appointed by President George W. Bush to serve as Assistant Secretary for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Before being elected governor in 2007 he served in U.S. Congress.
Jindal, now in his second term as governor, is known for leading Louisiana in its reform of ethics laws, eliminating taxes that deterred investment, for setting all-time employment records in the state, for instituting the statewide school choice scholarship program, and for making strides in transforming Louisiana’s health care system.
After receiving a Doctor of Humanities degree from Liberty, Jindal addressed the graduates, commending them for their achievements and cautioning them of the future.
He shared his own rags-to-riches story, how his parents emigrated from India to the U.S. in search of a better life, and how he came to know Christ because of the boldness of some friends.
“The short story is this,” he explained, “I read the words of Jesus Christ and I realized that they were true. I used to think that I had found God, but I believe it is more accurate to say that He found me.”
It is that conversion that has anchored his life since, Jindal said, and it is because of it he feels the need to fight for liberty for all.
Though the intellectual elite have pushed God out of the equation, Jindal said that doing so only pushes people further from the truth.
“Reason and logic lead to truth, which means that reason and logic lead to God,” he declared.
But as liberal elitists continue to vehemently oppose this position, Jindal said a war on liberty is at hand, and the implications are dire. He shared examples of how the personal expression of religion is being attacked in business, on television, and in the courts.
He said understanding that man is a created being, and that God — not government — grants rights, is essential for the very existence of this country.
“This diversity of belief is the foundation of our law and Constitution,” Jindal said. “America does not sustain and create faith. Faith created and sustains America. America did not invent religious freedom, religious freedom invented America.”
He said those waging war on religious expression today would have America believe that “religious freedom means you have the freedom to worship, and that's all.”
“In this misbegotten and un-American conception of religious liberty,” he explained, “your rights begin and end in the pew.”
To the contrary, he declared, “We have the right to practice our faith and protect our conscience no matter where we happen to be.”
Jindal emphasized the fact that America’s war on religious liberty is far more civil than that of other nations where churches are being burned and Christians silenced, or even killed. The battle, however, is important nonetheless.
“Our religious liberty must in no way ever be linked to the ever-changing opinions of the public,” Jindal said. “We must understand that our freedom of conscience protects all Americans of every persuasion — however those persuasions may evolve.
“Our liberties in America demand equal protections for all.”
He urged the graduates to never see themselves as victims, though it seems “Christians are the last group that it is OK to discriminate against in America.” He encouraged them to take hope in the fight, reminding them, “If God is with us, who can be against us?”