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Welcome to Our Stage

By Ron Brown, February 10, 2017

Through the decades, guest speakers have enhanced the Liberty experience

When envisioning the role that Liberty University would play in the world, Dr. Jerry Falwell, Liberty’s founder, thought it essential to bring influential leaders from every walk of life to campus. He recognized the value in learning from culture-makers all along the ideological spectrum — even those with opposing viewpoints.

Convocation — a thrice-weekly gathering — brings students together to pray, worship, and hear from thought leaders in all areas of culture. In addition, some of the world’s greatest thinkers and heroes have addressed Liberty students from the stage at Baccalaureate and Commencement ceremonies.

Liberty students have been inspired and challenged by both the well-known public figure and the quiet missionary working behind the scenes. Here is just a sampling of those who have spoken at Liberty over the years.

The 2010s

Steve Forbes, former Presidential Candidate and CEO of Forbes Magazine

In December 2016, Steve Forbes spoke at Convocation as an advocate for competitive capitalism. He was introduced by President Jerry Falwell as a man who believes in tax reform, strong national defense, and school choice.

“Liberty University is a very entrepreneurial university,” Forbes said. “You have done things that others have not done. You are ahead of the pack.”

According to Forbes, capitalism thrives on a sense of cooperation, requiring a meeting of the minds between the producer and the buyer in which transactions are voluntary and not overly regulated.
“You may not want to love your neighbor, but most people love selling to their neighbors,” Forbes said, and the end result is that most products are made up of components that create jobs and improve standards of living all over the world.

Washington Redskins Quarterback and NFL TV Analyst Joe Theismann

Joe Theismann is a textbook example of perseverance, and he shared his story at Convocation on Oct. 21, 2016.

Theismann told how his pro football career, which included a Super Bowl championship, came crashing down when he broke his leg during a game in 1985. He was the fourth-highest paid player in the NFL at the time. He said he had lost sight of God and His blessings until the injury, which taught him to put others before himself.

Theismann said that he now realizes he is merely a vehicle for God’s work.

“(God) noticed that I used those skills and was abusing those skills. It was time for me to not do that anymore, but to talk about the great graciousness of our loving Lord and the opportunities that He presents every day,” he said.

Democratic Presidential Candidate and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders

When he accepted the invitation to speak at LU, Sen. Bernie Sanders sent political pundits into a tailspin. Rarely had a progressive candidate with such high poll numbers entered an arena where so many listeners held conservative political views.

By appearing at Convocation on Sept. 14, 2015, Sanders became an unorthodox candidate in a bruising political campaign. He acknowledged early on in his speech that some of his views differed drastically from those of his audience.

“I came here today because I believe from the bottom of my heart that it is vitally important for those of us who hold different views to be able to engage in a civil discourse,” Sanders said.

Sanders said the United States has become a country where a few have extravagant wealth and many are desperately poor.
“We talk about morality. And we talk about justice. We have no justice when so few have so much while so many have so little,” he said. “Within your hearts, you will have to judge the morality and justice of that.”

More from the 2010s

This decade has drawn an impressive lineup of prominent speakers. Go to Liberty’s news archive at Liberty.edu/News to view photos and videos from their visits.


The 2000s

Former Speaker of the House and Presidential Candidate Newt Gingrich

Newt Gingrich has been a frequent visitor to Liberty. The battle-tested veteran of partisan politics faced the daunting task of delivering the Commencement address on May 19, 2007, just days after Jerry Falwell Sr. died. Much of his speech was a tribute to Falwell.

“When Ronald Reagan spoke of a shining city on a hill, we know it was the servant leaders of God, and God’s people whom they served, who were among the brightest beacons, not only here on Liberty Mountain but also across the land,” he said. “Look around you, and you know that they shine brightly today. Drawing strength from this institution and others like it, and most especially from the life example of Dr. Jerry Falwell and other servant leaders, they will shine still brighter tomorrow.”

Actor Chuck Norris

When Chuck Norris spoke at Commencement in May 2008, he was seen as an unorthodox pick. In the years following, his speech has been lauded as one of the best Commencement addresses of all time.

Norris was the first Commencement speaker selected by now President Jerry Falwell, who quipped about Norris wearing cowboy boots to a college graduation.

Norris described himself as a shy boy from Oklahoma who refused to stand up to give an oral book report in school and then became a martial arts champion, movie star, television star, and spokesman for numerous products.

He praised God as his teacher through both success and failure.

“The Holy Spirit said to me, ‘The only time you lose at something is when you don’t learn from your experiences.’”

The 1990s

President George H.W. Bush

george-hw-bush-ljws17In May 1990, Marine One, the presidential helicopter, landed at Liberty University with President George H.W. Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush on board.

With 16,000 Commencement spectators awaiting the first couple, Jerry Falwell Sr. wasted no time in letting the Bushes know how welcome they were — the stage where Bush was to give the graduation address was adorned with a huge American flag. Falwell assured the Bushes that they had come to a “Bible-believing, Christ-honoring university.”

In his speech, President Bush emphasized public service. “Remember, individually, we can change a life,” he said.

Collectively, we can change the world. Each of you can reject membership in a ‘Me’ generation  and prove that yours is the ‘We’ generation. You can show how the definition of a successful life must include serving others.”

Harkening back to the theme of his inaugural speech, Bush said, “Here at Liberty, you’ve shown how ‘a thousand points of light’ can become a galaxy of people working to solve problems in their own backyard.”

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas

justice-clarence-thomas-ljws17In May 1996, Justice Clarence Thomas spoke at Liberty’s Commencement.

“He is a voice that God raised up for such a time as this,” Dr. Falwell said as he introduced him.

Thomas spoke of his grandfather, whom he described as his greatest influence, a hardnosed realist, and a Bible-believing Christian. He moved the audience with his rags-to-riches story of perseverance through hardship and reminded the graduates to expect highs and lows in life.

“When I enter all the debits and all the credits of my life and my personal efforts, it doesn’t add up,” he said. “It doesn’t add up until Almighty God is added. And by His grace, all accounts fall into balance.”

The Rev. Billy Graham

rev-billy-graham-ljws17When the Rev. Billy Graham rolled into Liberty University in May 1997 to speak at Commencement, storm clouds were literally on the horizon.

When he started his speech, the skies began to clear.

Graham challenged the graduates, “I’m asking you today not to graduate, but to commence a new life following the will of God every step of the way.”

Graham said the 1997 graduates should expect to grapple with many uncertainties in modern life, and he urged them to make each day count.

“God calls us to invest our time — our very lives — primarily in people, not in projects or possessions,” Graham said. “We are to behave like Jesus. He’s our example; He lived and died for others.  Jesus told His disciples, ‘Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.’”

The 1980s

U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy

ted-kennedy-ljws17In October 1983, Sen. Ted Kennedy, the liberal lion, walked into Liberty Baptist College’s gymnasium to speak at Convocation.

“I always thought it would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than to have a Kennedy come to LBC,” he joked, and the crowd gave him a standing ovation.

Kennedy’s mission that night was to express his views on religious tolerance to a crowd of 5,000 students on the opposite end of the political spectrum.

“We will always respect the right of others to differ … and never lose sight of our fallibility,” he said.

Presidential Candidate and Governor Ronald Reagan

ronald-reagan-ljws17In October of 1980, just a month before he won the Presidential election, candidate Ronald Reagan addressed a gathering at the Liberty Baptist College multi-purpose building for a meeting of the National Religious Broadcasters.

Classes were canceled, and the campus buzzed with reporters, security, and excitement.

When Reagan arrived, students sitting on bleachers jumped to their feet and cheered.

Reagan spoke about the responsibility of religious broadcasters in helping to change the world and of ordinary citizens in bringing peace to America.

“In all we do we must be peacemakers, for ourselves and for our children, for our nation and for the world,” he said.
Other notable speakers that have graced the Liberty stage over the years include:

Entertainment Industry: Sean Astin, Mark Burnett, Kirk Cameron, Roma Downey, Kirk Franklin, Larry the Cable Guy, Lecrae, Brian Littrell, Mac Powell, Korie and Sadie Robertson, Ben Stein, Chris Tomlin, Randall Wallace, Brian “Head” Welch

Ministry Leaders: Kay Arthur, Mark Batterson, Alistair Begg, Christine Caine, Tony Campolo, Francis Chan, Chuck Colson, James Dobson, Elizabeth Elliot, Tony Evans, Louie Giglio, Franklin Graham, David Jeremiah, John MacArthur, John Maxwell, Josh McDowell, Eric Metaxas, Beth Moore, Luis Palau, John Piper, Adrian Rogers, Francis Schaeffer, Rick Warren, Bruce Wilkinson, Ravi Zacharias

Business and Government: Michele Bachmann, Glenn Beck, Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Dinesh D’Souza, Trey Gowdy, Sean Hannity, Jesse Helms, Mike Huckabee, Wayne Huizinga, Michael Hyatt, John McCain, Oliver North, Mike Pence, Rick Perry, Michael Reagan, Cal Thomas, Dave Thomas, Donald Trump

Sports Figures: Frank Beamer, Bobby Bowden, Chris Broussard, James Brown, Kaká, Bethany Hamilton, Lou Holtz, Jim Kelly, Darryl Strawberry, Tim Tebow

Liberty Alumna Shannon Bream gets new role at Fox News

shannon-bream-ljws17The new year brought a new position for Shannon Bream (’93) of Fox News Channel. On Jan. 16, Bream began co-hosting America’s Newsroom with Bill Hemmer. The program, which airs weekdays from 9-11 a.m. EST, focuses heavily on politics, as well as on the news of the day. The Bream/Hemmer pairing will last for the first 100 days of the Trump presidency.

Bream will also be heading up the network’s coverage of President Trump’s first Supreme Court nomination. She says she’s thrilled at the opportunity, even though it will be a big change for her.

“I’m used to commuting back and forth between D.C. and New York City, but this will be three months living away from my home base in Washington,” Bream said. “I’ll also have to dig in and find my previously undiscovered ’morning person.’ I gave up caffeine more than a year ago, so this should be interesting!”

Bream is proud of her alma mater. She met her husband, Sheldon, at Liberty and spoke at Commencement in May 2013. She said her time at Liberty has prepared her for this big move.

“More than anything, it gave me deep roots in my faith. God always has a bigger plan; when I’m staying close to Him, I have a deeper peace when things are chaotic. For me, it’s always unsettling to leave home for an extended period, but it’s part of my job. Though I never know where this business is going to take me, I know there’s purpose in every twist
and turn.”

Bream joined Fox News Channel in 2007. Since then, she’s interviewed many big names in politics. But her most memorable interview was with an elderly man who had escaped the Holocaust as a child.

“There was a mistake on his passport, and it was the lucky break that allowed his parents to get him out of Germany just in time. He lost everyone he loved and eventually made it to America. He cried when he talked about how grateful he was to become a U.S. citizen and live in a country that took him in and gave him a chance. I’ll never forget him.”

Bream graduated from Liberty with a degree in business in 1993 before getting a law degree at Florida State University.

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