Trump delivers first commencement address as president at Liberty University

(AP Photo/Steve Helber)

For his first commencement address as president, Donald Trump picked Liberty University, the Christian school whose leader was among Trump's earliest and most vocal supporters.

President Donald Trump told college graduates that they should "relish the opportunity to be an outsider" and adds that they can "change the world and make a real and lasting difference."

He said his message to those in the audience on the Lynchburg, Virginia, campus is "never, ever give up" and "never stop fighting for what you believe in."

Trump was an outsider who challenged the political establishment on the way to winning the White House. He tells students that they should "be totally unafraid to challenge entrenched and failed power structures." He then asked, "Does that sound familiar, by the way?"

And he said the more that people say something can't be done, "the more you should be absolutely determined to prove them wrong."

In his weekly address to the nation, Trump said he was "delighted to be participating first hand in the excitement" as students and faculty celebrate Liberty's more than 18,000 graduates.

The commander in chief typically addresses graduates of one of the U.S. military service academies, and Trump is scheduled to speak at the Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut on Wednesday.

"To young Americans at both schools, I will be bringing a message of hope and optimism about our nation's bright future," Trump said.

Jerry Falwell Jr., Liberty's president, helped Trump win an overwhelming 80 percent of the white evangelical vote.

A recent Pew Research Center survey marking Trump's first 100 days in office, a milestone reached on April 29, found three-quarters of white evangelicals approved of his performance as president while just 39 percent of the general public held the same view.

Christian conservatives have been overjoyed by Trump's appointment of Justice Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, along with Trump's choice of socially conservative Cabinet members and other officials, such as Charmaine Yoest, a prominent anti-abortion activist named to the Department of Health and Human Services.

But they had a mixed response to an executive order on religious liberty that Trump signed last week. He directed the IRS to ease up on enforcing an already rarely enforced limit on partisan political activity by churches.

He also promised "regulatory relief" for those who object on religious grounds to the birth control coverage requirement in the Affordable Care Act health law. Yet the order did not address one of the most pressing demands from religious conservatives: broad exemptions from recognizing same-sex marriage.

Falwell became a key surrogate and validator for the thrice-married Trump during the campaign, frequently traveling with Trump on the candidate's plane and appearing at events. Falwell often compared Trump to his later father, the conservative televangelist Jerry Falwell, and argued that while Trump wasn't the most religious candidate in the race, he was the man the country needed.

Newly elected U.S. presidents often give their first commencement addresses at the University of Notre Dame, the country's best-known Roman Catholic school.

Presidents Barack Obama, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush did so during their first year in office. But this year, Vice President Mike Pence will speak at Notre Dame's graduation, becoming the first vice president to do so.

Notre Dame spokesman Paul Browne declined to say whether Trump had been invited to the May 21 ceremony, saying it was against school policy to reveal who had turned down offers.
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