"And, if you take nothing else away from my time with you today, let it be that character matters." On May 17, 2008, Bryant University proudly welcomed the 41st President of the United States, George H.W. Bush, and awarded him an honorary degree.
President George H.W. Bush at Bryant University Commencement, May 17, 2008
Dec 06, 2018

At the 145th Commencement ceremonies on May 17, 2008, Bryant University proudly welcomed the 41st President of the United States, George H.W. Bush, and awarded him an honorary degree. In his Commencement address, President Bush generously shared his wisdom, humor, warmth, and inspiration with graduates, their families, and the entire Bryant community. To remember and honor him, we share the video and transcript of his remarks from that special day.

Transcript: 

Bryant President Ronald K. Machtley’s introduction

Please welcome our Commencement speaker, the President of the United States President George Bush, who will deliver our Commencement address wearing his bulldog Bryant tie. Mr. President.

President George H.W. Bush’s remarks 

Thank you all for that very warm Bryant welcome. The only thing wrong with thisI'd like Barbara to have been there to hear that citation about me. Things would be going a lot smoother at home after 63 years of marriage. It's too kind and too generous, but I'm so proud to be standing here.

I want to thank Brendan Doherty who sang the anthem. I think I didn't hear him, but they told me he did a good job, the invocation by Reverend Pescatello, and of course to be introduced and be on the platform with my old friend, your president, Ron Machtley, makes me very, very happy. When I was in the White House when he was a member of the United States Congress—and we saw a good deal of him—and I was very pleased that he and his wife, Kati, were here to greet me today. And I'm even more pleased to see what a positive impact he has had on this university.

And if you take nothing else away from my time with you today, let it be that character matters. No amount of fame or fortune is worth losing your very soul. Everyone wants to be the best and the brightest, but I also believe it is equally important to strive to be the kindest and gentlest people we can be. And those of us who are blessed with success and opportunity have an obligation to share those same blessings with others.

[APPLAUSE]

I would like to salute the Board Chairman Tom Taylor and, indeed, all the Trustees for their stewardship at this terrific institution. And I don't want to overlook Trustee David Beirne for that marvelous— maybe it's Beirne—but he's got a hell of an airplane, I'll tell you. And I'm thrilled that he picked me up today at our home up the coast in Maine and will be delivering me back. But that's a very generous and wonderful thing, and I appreciate it.

I want to congratulate Fan Jianchuan, a developer of China's largest private museum, and of course Roxanne Spillet—the citation said it all. But what a wonderful life she's lived—service to others. There can be no definition of a successful life that does not include service to others. And both she and Mr. Jianchuan exemplify that.

I might add a word of thanks and praise for your teachers and administrative members in this audience, who do the hard work day in and day out of making sure the students here get the best possible education. And a lot of people don't know this, but some 30 years ago for a brief period of time, I was an adjunct professor at Rice University—a wonderful school in Houston. And I said, what does adjunct mean. It means you don't get paid.

So anyway, there I was. And some thought I was overcompensated even as it was, but nevertheless I was able to touch lives in that meaningful way that your professors here, teachers, teacher assistants all understand, and that is giving something to someone else, giving some young person a shot at the American dream.

I do have something to say for our students. But the last group—I acknowledged the students earlier, but I didn't see the broke parents stand up. Now, would all the parents of these kids that are graduating please stand up and give them a round of applause? Where are you?

[APPLAUSE]

There they are. Some of you were not parents. You just wanted to hear the applause. I know, but that's all right.

[LAUGHTER]

I know there's a little chance that anything I might possibly tell you would be recalled tomorrow. That's just the way graduation speeches are. But still hope springs eternal.

So as I cast around for a few catchy sayings that might etch their way into your memory, I came across this little tidbit of job advice that says, don't be irreplaceable. If you can't be replaced, you can't be promoted. Now think about that.And on that little pearl of existential wisdom, another one goes here. If you think nobody cares if you're alive, try missing a couple of car payments. And my personal favorite – if at first you do not succeed, then skydiving is not for you.

Still nothing had the ring of inspiration, the timbre of success to lead you on to a life of challenge and wonder. So I searched on. What could I say to help fire you up? So to always use excellence as your guide in everything you do. Make your family, faith, and friends the center of your life. But also find time, make time if needed, to serve your fellow man.

And then it dawned on me that there really is nothing I can add to what you've learned and absorbed right here in countless, everyday experiences at this wonderful school about the character of success. Success of course starts with knowledge, with getting a first-class education. And you've certainly had that privilege here at Bryant.

But success goes beyond knowledge and education alone. I heard a preacher recently talking about the best advice he got from his mother. And among the best advice she gave was get a great education and then get over it. Education is absolutely vital.

But as Theodore Roosevelt once observed, to educate a man in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society. Here at Bryant, to their everlasting credit, they've taught you repeatedly that character matters as much as knowledge. And if you take nothing else away from my time with you today, let it be that character matters.

No amount of fame or fortune is worth losing your very soul. Everyone wants to be the best and the brightest, but I also believe it is equally important to strive to be the kindest and gentlest people we can be. And those of us who are blessed with success and opportunity have an obligation to share those same blessings with others.

After all, you can't take it with you, as the saying goes. And when your time on Earth is done and your bones return to dust, no one will recall what kind of car you drove or what kind of suit you had on. But they will remember if you knew what it meant to be a true friend in good times and in bed – and in bad, bad, bad. Sorry. A little Freudian slip there.

[LAUGHTER]

Now I'll tell you, though, remember this though – they'll remember if you kept your word and played by the rules and loved your family. They'll recall too if you tried to do unto others as you would have done unto you and demonstrated the kind of humility that renders one humble in times of victory and gracious in defeat.

They'll recall too if you tried to do unto others as you would have done unto you and demonstrated the kind of humility that renders one humble in times of victory and gracious in defeat.

Those, dear graduates, are the makings of values. And now we're in the midst of another election year. And I used to catch heck as president when I tried to talk about values a million years ago. Maybe I was a slow learner, but I didn't stop then. And I cannot stop now because these are the same timeless values that have sustained our American experience in democracy through 232 years of trial and triumph.

Today our nation is starting to turn to your generation to step forward and to start helping to see our way through the next period of global challenge. Are you ready? Are you're ready to build the new companies and products we need to compete with China, who are friends and we want to keep it that way? Are you prepared to help us keep up with rising competitors, such as India? Who of you out there is going to help solve our energy challenges or fix the health care crisis or any host of other big problems that we'd face?

There's a lot of pessimistic talk out there, but you won't hear it from me because I happen to believe that we are the greatest, freest nation on the face of the earth. We have no apologies to be given. We can keep striving for improvement. But I want to see every single one of you contribute to the overall well-being of this great country.

These are tough problems, but seeing all of you and feeling the pride of this day only reaffirms my optimism in our country's future. There's a lot of pessimistic talk out there, but you won't hear it from me because I happen to believe that we are the greatest, freest nation on the face of the earth. We have no apologies to be given. We can keep striving for improvement. But I want to see every single one of you contribute to the overall well-being of this great country.

In other words, when I was a Navy pilot back there 1,000 years ago flying in the Pacific in 1944, we had a saying that I think that still some pilots use today called CAVU, C-A-V-U, Ceiling And Visibility Unlimited. That applies to my life today. I've been blessed with so many challenges, failed in some, succeeded in others. But ceiling and visibility unlimited – that's the way I feel about life, its own self. And that's the way I want your lives to be.

When you were a young pilot and you hit that deck ready for mission, what you wanted to see was a cloudless sky so you could easily identify the objectives and threats in your past. That was C-A-V-U, ceiling and visibility unlimited. Well, dear graduates, your life's experience up to this point in time culminating by your years here at Bryant place you on your own flight deck with the training you need to start your mission.

And as you prepare to be flung off the flight deck into the next exciting phase of your life, I can only wish you and our beloved nation C-A-V-U, ceiling and visibility unlimited. May it remain that way your whole life through.

And as you prepare to be flung off the flight deck into the next exciting phase of your life, I can only wish you and our beloved nation C-A-V-U, ceiling and visibility unlimited. May it remain that way your whole life through. So go out there, make us all proud, make your university proud, count your blessings because you have plenty, especially on a beautiful day like this. And go on and make a difference in this world.

Good luck. God bless, and thank you again. And I brought a reminder. I don't know what you do with all trivia. I'll give it to Ron, let him figure out what to do with it. This is the plaqueceiling and visibility unlimited. May God bless each and every one of you and thank you for the warmth of your welcome.

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