News & Policies >
For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
April 28, 2007
Mrs. Bush's Remarks at Pepperdine University Commencement Ceremony
11:22 A.M. PDT
MRS. BUSH: Thank you all very, very much. Thank you for this honorary doctorate. I'm so happy to be here with all of you.
Thank you, Mr. Martin, for your kind introduction. President Benton and Chancellor Runnels, I'm honored to receive this degree from Pepperdine University, and I'm delighted to be part of the Pepperdine family.
I'd also like to recognize Pepperdine's Provost, Darryl Tippens, and the Dean of Seaver College, David Baird. Thank you to the distinguished faculty, the alumni, the parents, the families for your very warm welcome. You've made me feel right at home here, even though I never had to take Speech 180. (Laughter.) Most of all, thank you and congratulations to the Pepperdine Class of 2007. (Applause.)
Today, we celebrate 659 graduates from 50 majors, 40 states, and 29 countries. We celebrate your parents and families and teachers, whose love and support brought you to this day. They're proud of you, and they've worked hard to give you these many opportunities. So there's no better time than now to thank them. Please give your parents and your teachers a round of applause. (Applause.)
And of course, we celebrate your beautiful university. I've been to Pepperdine before, when then-Governor Bush delivered your commencement address. But it's been a while, and I wanted to refresh my memory before coming back, so I did the easiest thing: I went online. (Laughter.) All the updates I needed about Malibu I found on the home page for US Weekly. (Laughter.) Then I went to Pepperdine's website to learn more about Seaver College, and I found some enticing descriptions of your campus. This is what the website says: "Nestled in the rolling foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains, the Malibu campus commands a majestic view of the Pacific Ocean. Parking is provided on campus." (Laughter.)
I looked to see who else has addressed Pepperdine's graduates. It turns out you've had many distinguished commencement speakers. I was especially impressed by your speaker from 1992: my mother-in-law, Barbara Bush. (Laughter.)
One piece of advice that I can give you is that it's generally a good idea to follow the lead of your mother-in-law. (Laughter.) And I saw that my mother-in-law gave the 1992 graduates sound parting wisdom. So then I thought back to my own graduation, and tried to remember the advice that my graduation speaker gave to me. But I couldn't recall who gave the commencement address at the University of Texas in 1973. Maybe that's -- and I hate to admit it -- because I skipped the ceremony. (Laughter.) UT didn't offer "Convo Credit." (Laughter.) But I did look it up, and I found out who gave that commencement address. And you can imagine my surprise when I discovered it was some guy named George Bush. (Laughter and applause.) Four years after that speech, I married his son. (Laughter.)
Many of those lessons you learned in the classroom. Some seniors learned more than they wanted to, by enrolling in "Business Policy." (Laughter.) Other lessons you learned on the courts. For example, you learned how to be gracious winners this year, when your number-one-ranked men's volleyball team beat USC and UCLA. (Applause.) Every day, you've learned from your academic discoveries, from your disappointments and triumphs, and from the friends that you cherish.
But the most important lessons -- the ones that will guide you through life -- you learned in the practice of your faith. Pepperdine is an excellent academic institution, which also happens to be a vibrant community of faith. And Pepperdine students know that with your faith comes a calling. You know that those who are blessed with so much are called to give back -- to feed the hungry, to comfort the mourning, lift up the weary, and heal the sick. This calling is spelled out in Scripture in your university's motto, and on Pepperdine's Seal: "Freely you have received. Freely give."
Class of 2007, you're blessed with tremendous energy and idealism. You've received a superb education. Today starts a period of incredible liberty and adventure -- a time to demand the most of life, before life makes specific demands on you. And as you work to make the most of what you've received, I can tell you one thing for sure: You won't waste your talents and education if you "freely give" them in service to others.
This is especially important for the Class of 2007. More than any other generation of Americans, yours is tasked with resolving challenges that lie far beyond your doorstep -- even far beyond America's borders. Between cell phones and the Internet, you have a world of information literally at your fingertips. And because our world is so small, you can't ignore the genocide in Darfur, or the human-rights abuses in Burma. You can't turn away as pandemic diseases torment an entire continent. And you can't look aside as American communities lie in ruin.
Fortunately, sharing your gifts comes naturally to the students of Pepperdine. You care for the homeless at three missions on Skid Row. You cheer the elderly through "Senior Connections." Hundreds of Pepperdine students participate in Project Serve, your alternative spring break. Through your school's Volunteer Center, you gave almost 55,000 hours of service just this last year. Every September, 1,400 Pepperdine students participate in "Step Forward Day." You join alumni across the country, and come together as one Pepperdine community -- united through acts of service.
Give to children what you've received here at Pepperdine: the gift of outstanding teachers. You're here today because of the teachers who believed in you. And across our country, the next generation of students waits for teachers who will believe in them. In fact, the Department of Education estimates that our country will need another 2 million teachers over the next decade.
Many Pepperdine students already serve in our classrooms. This year, through the JumpStart program, 100 Pepperdine undergraduates spent thousands of hours teaching local preschool students how to read. One JumpStart teacher is your classmate Matt Graves -- (applause) -- who led this year's New York City Project Serve team to P.S. 30 in the Bronx. "The Pepperdine team and the fourth graders built really strong relationships," Matt remembers. "The kids cried when we left. They made good-bye cards for us. We kept in touch over email. That's after just one week of being a teaching assistant. Imagine if you did it over a lifetime."
Seventeen of your classmates are graduating with degrees in teaching. More will serve in classrooms across our nation through Teach for America. One of these future teachers is your classmate Noel Paasch. (Applause.) Noel was born in Germany, but grew up in Los Angeles. Noel said, "I wanted to give back to this community what it's given me. Teaching is the way to do that. You give people the most powerful tool for success. And that's education." Inspired by her professors at Pepperdine, Noel applied to Teach for America, and last week, Noel learned that she will give back to her adopted hometown as a Teach for America corps member, serving in inner-city Los Angeles.
One part of our country that's especially hungry for teachers -- and talented young people -- is the Gulf Coast. In the aftermath of the 2005 hurricanes, Pepperdine students immediately rose to the challenge. You welcomed as your own a dozen students from Xavier and Tulane. You raised nearly $47,000 -- which you used to distribute gift cards to evacuees at the L.A. Dream Center, and send food and water to New Orleans. Since Katrina, Pepperdine students have taken six service trips to the Gulf Coast. At first you "mucked out" ruined homes. Later, you put up drywall. On subsequent trips, you replanted gardens. With each journey, you've seen signs of hope and renewal. And you've given renewed hope to the families you served.
One Pepperdine senior who served on the Gulf Coast is Tashara Barnes. (Applause.) Tashara recalls, "When I went down there, I was shocked at the level of devastation. I mean, we're in Malibu -- we're used to disasters." (Laughter.) "But nothing prepared me for that." This December, Tashara and her fellow volunteers went to New Orleans to clear out homes, strip doorways, and start new construction. They stayed in an abandoned schoolhouse, and slept on cots arranged through the upper floors.
Tashara was touched by the signs of devastation: the rescue-Xs sprayed on homes, showing how many residents were found inside. She was also touched by the signs of promise: streets that were once eerily empty, now stirring to life. But most of all, she was touched by the people of New Orleans. "They're so open and warm and grateful," Tashara said. She especially remembers one young woman who had been college when Katrina struck. Instead of going to another school in another city, this woman stayed to cook for the volunteers helping New Orleans rebuild. When Tashara asked the young woman why, her response was simple. "I just can't leave my city," she said. "I need to be here. This is my home."
Class of 2007, help families devastated by Katrina come home to a revitalized Gulf Coast. The region has a special need for teachers and medical professionals, especially nurses. But it doesn't matter what career you're pursuing. This summer, before you start a new job or graduate school, travel to the Gulf Coast and help with the reconstruction. Later, dedicate a vacation to the recovery. It will be time well spent.
Think about the long-term opportunities to help. Even before Hurricane Katrina, many residents of Mississippi and Louisiana were denied the promise of America. Now the Gulf Coast has a chance for a fresh start. It will be brighter if young, adventurous Americans establish their careers, their families, and their lives there. The work you do during the week will revitalize the Gulf Coast economy. And in your quiet hours, you'll invest in the community by working for justice and equality, by building schools and sharing your time and love with neighbors who still grieve.
The Pepperdine Class of 2007 -- and all of us in the United States -- have freely received the blessings of our nation: good health and prosperity; opportunity and freedom. Our country is also blessed with compassionate citizens who freely give to other nations in need. Many of these compassionate citizens are right here at Pepperdine.
Pepperdine students have an intense interest in global affairs. Ask a Pepperdine student about his favorite college hangout, and the answer is likely to be "Buenos Aires," "Florence," or "Heidelberg." More than 60 percent of you have spent time overseas -- and I commend you for your passion for other places and cultures.
For many of you, that passion translates into service abroad through the Peace Corps. In fact, Pepperdine consistently ranks among the top 15 schools for Peace Corps recruits.
Others of you will serve abroad in uniform. From here, you can see Pepperdine's Heroes Garden, built in honor of Americans' actions on September 11th. One of those heroes on September 11th was a Pepperdine alumnus, Thomas Burnett. On a perfect Tuesday morning, Tom boarded a San Francisco-bound flight at Newark Airport. And we know that United Flight 93 never reached its destination. After the hijacking, in a phone call to his wife, Tom promised: "We're going to do something." He did. We'll never know what the target of Flight 93 was, but we do know that Tom and his fellow passengers saved the lives of many people.
Five years later, Pepperdine graduates are taking up Tom Burnett's call to "do something" for our country. After your graduation, America's armed forces will be stronger thanks to three members of the Class of 2007: Brendan Groves, Michael Stahlke, and John Deniston. (Applause.)
One of your fellow students who's in Iraq now, Richard Nye, explains why they serve. After his freshman year at Pepperdine, Army Sergeant Nye volunteered to go to Iraq. Today, he patrols Baghdad, providing security for Iraqis rebuilding their capital. The job is difficult, Richard explains, but it's made easier by the encouragement he receives from Pepperdine.
In November, Richard met an Iraqi veteran who had served under Saddam's regime. This old soldier presented Richard with medals his son had earned in the new Iraqi army, fighting alongside American soldiers. The man's son had died in the line of duty, and Richard was honored that this former Baathist "thought so much of us, and his son, who was trying to aid us and serve his nation." Richard, in turn, presented the medals to Dr. Benton and two of his Pepperdine professors. With their support, Sergeant Nye said, he's able to complete his coursework and serve in uniform -- a job that gives him great satisfaction. "Getting out there and seeing that you've made a difference," Richard explains, "is the most amazing feeling anyone could possibly have."
Class of 2007, serve abroad by fighting pandemic disease in Africa. Help to eradicate malaria -- a treatable and preventable illness that kills over a million people every year. Commit to defeating HIV/AIDS -- one of the greatest humanitarian crises of all times. Around the world, nearly 40 million people are infected with AIDS. Twenty-six million of them are concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa.
In 2003, President Bush announced the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief: a five-year, $15 billion program to combat the AIDS epidemic in Africa and other threatened regions. PEPFAR resources are helping to train community health workers -- Africans who can teach people in their villages how to protect themselves from HIV, and who provide AIDS patients with drugs and medical care.
Today, more community health workers need to be trained throughout Africa. Forty members of the Pepperdine Class of 2007 are going to medical school -- and I encourage you to contribute to this effort.
Pepperdine students are passionate about defeating HIV/AIDS. This year, your women's basketball team hosted the first-ever Time Out For HIV/AIDS Classic to raise money and awareness. Your Acting on AIDS ministry educates the healthy and serves the suffering. This summer, seven Pepperdine students will travel to Tanzania, to care for pediatric AIDS patients and orphans.
Pepperdine students also fight AIDS by working to overcome one of the greatest threats to global health: a lack of clean water. Around the world, more than a billion people do not have safe water to drink. Without clean water, people suffering from HIV and AIDS can't take their antiretroviral medicines easily and safely.
The United States government and generous philanthropists are bringing clean water to Africa through the PlayPumps Alliance. PlayPumps are children's merry-go-rounds attached to a water pump and a storage tank. When the wheel turns, clean drinking water is produced. PlayPumps are fueled by a limitless source of energy: children at play.
The alliance will provide clean drinking water to as many as 10 million
Africans by 2010. Each of you can help us reach our goal of building 4,000
PlayPumps through the "100 Pumps in 100 Days" campaign. You can learn more
about this nationwide effort by visiting www.playpumps.org
Here's Idea Number 101: support your classmates who are already confronting this challenge. Last year, eight members of the Class of 2007 established Wishing Well, a project to build water pumps in Africa.
One of the project's founders, Jimmy McCarty -- (applause) -- remembers when he saw the need for clean water firsthand. On a service trip to Uganda, Jimmy lived next door to an elderly couple in Kampala. Five of their grandchildren had lost their parents to AIDS. The grandmother was suffering from malaria. Jimmy went to the rural water source nearby, and was horrified. The water was dirty and stagnant. Mosquitoes -- which carry malaria -- were breeding. "That's when it really hit me," Jimmy said.
The Class of 2007 has joined Wishing Well's efforts to build new pumps. Many of you remember "Water Week" -- when Pepperdine students gave up every drink except water -- juice, soda, and -- heaven forbid in Malibu -- even latt s. (Laughter.) The money students saved by not buying drinks -- including those at the Malibu Inn -- (laughter) -- went toward clean water for Africa. (Applause.)
So far, Pepperdine students have raised about $14,000 for Wishing Well. Your efforts have already helped put a clean-water pump in a rural town near Nairobi. And this summer, two more will be installed -- another in Kenya, and one in The Gambia, near a World Bible School. Because of your generosity, hundreds of children will have access to clean water -- and the hope of good health.
One of your classmates, Mushambi Mutuma -- (applause) -- is excited about working for Wishing Well after graduation. "There's so many problems with Africa that are so hard to fix," Mushambi says. "They require either U.N. peacekeepers, or trained scientists. But with clean water, it's so simple. It's something all of us can do, even college students. We can go to a village and build a water well, and we know things are going to be better than they were."
Class of 2007, you've received the blessings of your time at Pepperdine. Now it's time to freely give. Use your talent and energy to make a better world for people throughout our country and across the globe. You'll find happiness along the way.
Congratulations to each and every one of you. Thank you for giving me this chance to share this special day with you. May God bless the Seaver Class of 2007. (Applause.)
END 11:44 A.M. PDT