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Baylor University Commencement Address

Governor George W. Bush
Prepared Remarks
May 16, 1998; Waco, Texas
(audio and video of commencement ceremony
and address)

The last time I received an honorary degree was when they made me a member of the Noze Brothers during that great homecoming weekend two years ago. Now I want you boys to pay for that building you painted pink and behave yourselves.

It is great to be in Waco again. I want to thank you for allowing us to be a part of this very special day in your lives.

President Sloan, Members of the Board of Regents, distinguished faculty, family, friends and especially, the Class of 1998, this is a proud day.

Today marks the culmination of many years of hard work and striving, many years of juggling commitments, many years of circling this campus, looking for a place to park!

I congratulate you for your accomplishments. Now get a job and pay those parking tickets!

I also congratulate the parents here today. Your love and dedication made this day possible. Your sons and daughters could not have arrived at this moment without your sacrifice, your help and your constant belief in their hopes and dreams. Today belongs to you as much as the graduates. You’re broke, but happy.

As the Class of '98 leaves this campus you take with you many treasured memories of your college days.

Memories such as – sleeping in on Sunday mornings, then dressing up to go to the cafeteria so everyone will think you went to church.

I know you’ll also miss Chapel Forum – Baylor’s answer to Sominex – which I had the honor of addressing twice.

Finally, Class of ’98, you leave here knowing that – you saw something not seen at Baylor in 150 years. You were witnesses to The Miracle on 5th Street: When the Baylor Bears became the Dancing Bears and proved you can shake, shimmy and shuffle with the best of them.

And leading the pack were President and Mrs. Sloan – who, by the way, do a mean jitterbug.

Like any other graduation speaker, I want my words today to be relevant. So when I began preparing, I thought back to the speeches at my own graduations. I tried to recall some sage advice that has stuck with me through the years -- some kernel of wisdom that I could pass along to you today. The truth is, I do not remember any. I cannot even recall who the speakers were.

All I do remember is that the speeches were too darn long. So I am under no illusions today. I realize that many of you -- at this very moment -- are politely pretending to be listening, but you are really thinking about the big party later. So I will keep this speech short.

The world you are about to enter is completely different from the one that greeted me in 1968. When I graduated from college, surfing was something you did at the beach on a board. Today, we surf at the computer on the Internet.

When I went job hunting, I competed with students from around our state and country. Your competition will include graduates from around the world. Free trade is creating new economic opportunities in our own hemisphere. People worldwide are courageously saying no to tyranny and government oppression and yes to democracy and the marketplace.

This is an exciting time, a time of tremendous change and great opportunities. And as both people and markets become more free, the world will shrink and become even smaller than it is today. And it is already pretty small. In our world today, you can have breakfast in London, a teleconference lunch with executives in Beijing, and still make it back home in time to catch the mighty Texas Rangers play ball.

But while the world around us is rapidly changing day to day, some things will never change, some things will always remain constant and true.

Abraham Lincoln learned that during the Civil War, one of the most chaotic periods in our nation's history. Faced with the enormous challenge of running a country at war with itself, Lincoln discovered that decisions came easier when he stuck to his ideals. He once illustrated this point with a story about a young friend who was frightened by a sudden meteor shower.

Lincoln reassured his friend, urging him to look beyond the shooting streaks of light to the fixed stars twinkling serenely in the heavens. "Let us not mind the meteors," Lincoln said. "But let us keep our eyes on the stars."

As you leave here, with your diplomas and your dreams, my hope is that you will not be dissuaded or confused by life's meteors crashing around you, but that you will stay focused on some fixed stars as your guide:

FIRST, no matter how much technology advances, you do business with people, not machines. Everyone deserves to be treated with respect and dignity – and it is important to listen and to respect the opinions of others. You can understand another's point of view without sacrificing your own principles and beliefs.

I hope you will also view each person as an individual -- an individual who has a soul -- not someone to be lumped into some group or category based on what they look like or where they come from. If Texans are known for nothing else, it should be that we judge each other based on potential and heart, that we give each person a fair shot at achieving his or her dreams -- whether in our public institutions or in our private lives.

SECONDLY, while recognizing the worth of other people, give yourself the same courtesy. Great decisions in life spring from the heart. Trust your instincts and do not be afraid of either failure or success.

THIRDLY, you are responsible for yourself and you are responsible for what you do in life. About the time I graduated from college in the 60s, the culture of our country began to change dramatically. We questioned everything -- our faith, our values, our moral standards of behavior. The rallying cry became: "If it feels good do it." Individuals are not responsible for their actions, went the thinking, we are all victims of forces beyond our control. But our society has paid a dear price for this cultural shift.

Males father children and walk away to let others deal with the consequences. A second and third generation of Americans are dependent on a welfare system that saps the soul and drains the spirit of our very future. Random, violent juvenile crime is exploding and criminologists warn of a new generation of "super predators" -- kids without fear or conscience.

To restore peace and civility to our neighborhoods and our country, we must change the culture -- to a new culture based upon individual responsibility and shared values – values that have stood the test of time: love your neighbor, give an honest day's work for an honest day's wages, don't lie or cheat or steal, respect others -- respect their property and their opinions -- and always remember you are responsible for what you say and what you do.

FOURTH, baseball should always be played outdoors, on grass, with wooden bats.

FIFTH, while the world may be changing dramatically, remember that families are the backbone of our society. Families must endure forever. In our families we find love and we learn the compassionate values essential to make us good citizens of the world.

When the time comes to start your own families, I hope each and every one of you will strive to build -- not just a house -- but a home. It takes hard work and dedication -- just ask your parents. But home is where our hearts find peace, and home is where our dreams take wing.

SIXTH -- and this is very important, you might want to write this down -- I have learned that, no matter how old you are or what you do, you can never escape your mother. I learned the one weekend in Fredericksburg, Texas. Mother and Dad joined me on stage for a 50th anniversary celebration of America's World War II victory in the Pacific.

The day was sunny and beautiful, and more than 30,000 people lined the streets for the parade. It was a wonderful opportunity for me to say thank you on behalf of the sons and daughters of my generation to the moms and dads of my parents' generation for the sacrifices they made for our freedom.

I walked up to the podium, turned to Dad and said, "Mr. President," and everybody gave him a nice round of applause. Then I said, "Mother," and the crowd went wild. I said, "Mother, it is clear they still love you." And there was more cheering and applause.

I said, "Mother, I love you, too. But after 49 years, you are still telling me what to do." And some guy in a huge cowboy hat on the front row yelled out, "And you better listen to her, too, boy!"

I do listen to her, and one of the things she has taught me is the final and most important fixed star I hope you will keep in mind: God exists today, and God will exist forever. I am convinced that to truly change America, we need a renewal of spirit in this country, a return to selfless concern for others, for duty, and for country. We must let faith be the fire within us.

Government can hand out money, but it cannot put hope in our hearts or a sense of purpose in our lives. A successful career can put a BMW in the driveway, but it cannot fill the spiritual well from which we draw strength every day. Only faith can do that.

I hope you will be a part of that renewal of spirit as you begin your careers and put to work those degrees that you have worked so hard to earn.

Some graduates today are planning to become teachers, and I want to thank you for that. You have chosen a profession that will never make you rich. But the fruits of your labor stand to make us all, as a nation, rich. Our children are the faces of our future, and those of you who choose to teach will impact that future in a very profound way.

Yours is a noble calling, as one famous Texan -- Sam Houston -- pointed out many years ago. Houston was a war hero, a teacher, a President of the Republic of Texas, a U.S. Senator, and Governor of two states. Near the end of his life, one of Houston's friends asked, of all the titles he had held in his lifetime, which one had meant the most to him. And Sam Houston replied without hesitation: Teacher.

But teaching is more than something done in a classroom. Teaching is something we should all do every day of our lives.

Teach your children decency. Teach them to be responsible for themselves. Teach your neighbors that you love them by doing something kind.

A moment ago, I mentioned my predecessor in the Texas Governor's Mansion, Sam Houston. He was an amazing man, a real Texas hero. But what most people do not know is that his life could have turned out much differently. He wrestled with self-doubt; he wandered for years looking for direction; he was twice driven from public office in disgrace; and he struggled with an addiction to alcohol.

The turning point for Houston came one day when, drunk and physically spent, he looked into a mirror and saw the reflection of a man he no longer respected. That very day Houston vowed to turn his life around, and he did. And our history is richer for it.

My final hope is that you will follow your dreams, keep your eyes on those fixed stars, but most of all I hope -- when you look in the mirror -- you will always be proud of what you see.

God bless you, Class of 1998. And God bless Texas.


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