May 17, 2018 : By Ted Allen - Office of Communications & Public Engagement
On Saturday morning, when Liberty University welcomes former U.S. President Jimmy Carter as the keynote speaker for its 45th Commencement, it will not be without precedent. Although Carter will be the first former president to take Liberty’s stage, the university has previously hosted two U.S. presidents while in office — George H.W. Bush in 1990 and Donald J. Trump last year.
Liberty has also been a favorite destination for those seeking our nation’s highest office.
The campus hosted Ronald Reagan for a meeting of the National Religious Broadcasters just a month before he won the 1980 Presidential Election. Mitt Romney spoke at Liberty’s 2012 Commencement, just weeks before becoming the Republican nominee for president.
Sen. John McCain spoke at the university in 2006 ahead of his presidential run. Ron Paul, Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, and Newt Gingrich visited Liberty near the height of their political careers.
Ahead of the 2016 presidential election, Liberty hosted Gov. Bobby Jindal for Commencement in 2014 and then Gov. Jeb Bush for Commencement in 2015 as they were considering running for president. Sen. Ted Cruz spoke at Liberty’s Convocation just hours after he threw his hat in the ring. Others followed, giving students the unique opportunity to hear from candidates from three political parties in the same school year — Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who challenged Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) for the Democratic nomination for president, Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, as well as Dr. Ben Carson (near the peak of his campaign in the Republican primary) and Trump.
Carson, a famed neurosurgeon and current Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, will be returning to Liberty on Saturday to attend the main Commencement ceremony and address the first graduates from the College of Osteopathic Medicine at their degree presentation ceremony in the afternoon. He joins a long list of leaders from different branches of the government to visit campus over the decades.
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas spoke at Commencement in 1996.
In 1983, Sen. Ted Kennedy spoke at Liberty’s Convocation. Though it may have seemed strange to the outside world that the “liberal lion” was invited to a conservative Christian institution, his visit was in line with the vision of Liberty’s founder, the Rev. Jerry Falwell, to see Liberty as a prominent place for the exchange of ideas and for challenging society to become civically engaged so that freedom would thrive.
Last year, President Trump broke tradition when he chose Liberty as the site for his first Commencement speech in office. It was a historic moment not only for the Class of 2017 but for the nation as well. Commencement 2018 will be another memorable occasion at Liberty.
“It is one of the greatest honors of my life to welcome President Carter to our Commencement stage,” President Falwell said when announcing Carter as the keynote speaker. “I have tremendous respect for him as a statesman and a true Christian. While Christians may disagree about what role government should play in serving those in need, the Liberty University community along with all Christians worldwide are united in the belief that we, as individuals, should provide food and shelter to the poor. President Carter, both during his time in office and since, has followed the teachings of Christ by serving the poor and loving his neighbors. I am thrilled that he will be sharing the story of his life of faith in action to our graduates and their families.”