BUENA VISTA, Va. — Two-time presidential candidate Mitt Romney used life experiences, scriptures and a Mormon pioneer story to encourage Southern Virginia University graduates to live abundantly and in deep waters.
Romney addressed a record-breaking crowd of more than 1,800 people – nearly double the size of last year’s commencement audience – assembled on the front lawn of Southern Virginia’s historic Main Hall. In addition to 114 graduates and their family members and friends, local education and government leaders attended, including Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va.
University leaders gave Romney an honorary doctorate, citing his family, church, academic and public service accomplishments, as well as his “remarkable, storied and celebrated career.”
“Each of our graduates today can look to Mitt and to Ann as epitomizing the fundamental principle taught on our campus through the motto of our university: learn that life is service,” Southern Virginia Provost Madison Sowell said.
Romney’s audience today was much smaller but possibly more enthusiastic than the one he addressed last year as a presidential candiate at the evangelical Liberty University, just 45 minutes away. Still, he took time today to thank those “hundreds from this campus” who had helped him campaign and said that he “owes them deeply.”
Romney briefly returned to a refrain that he occasionally used on the campaign trail.
“To you parents,” he said, “you are about to enjoy the new American dream: it is no longer owning your own home, it is getting your kids out of the home you own.”
Romney told the graduates that although not all of them would be rich, famous and powerful, “every one of you here today, as graduates, can live an abundant life.”
He recounted the biblical story of Jesus directing Peter and other fishermen to return to their boats after their unsuccessful fishing, and to cast their nets again.
Quoting Luke, he said, “Launch out in the deep, and let down your nets.”
“Those words are a metaphor for life: launch out into the deep,” Romney said.
Unlike commencement speakers of yesteryear, Romney’s experience on the campaign trail has trained him to speak in succinct sound bites – brief statements that can fit easily within Twitter’s 140-character limit.
“Don’t live in the shallow, live in the deep waters.”
“Grasp every ennobling experience that is available to you.”
“Embrace every dimension of living that challenges you, that educates you, that elevates you.”
“Live for purposes greater than yourself. Lose yourself in the service of others.”
“Reach beyond the shallows of selfishness, of complacency, of mindless conformity, and of indulgence.”
“Launch out into the deep, and your nets will be filled.”
On Marriage and Family
“Getting married is one way of launching into the deep.”
The combination of a man and woman in marriage is “extraordinarily challenging and enormously rewarding.”
“Marriage is a gift from God.”
“The Bible is a pearl of wisdom, a distillation of lessons of life. So when it says marry, listen.”
“Bringing children into the world is also launching into the deep.”
Romney described a time that he and his wife, Ann, were invited to speak to students at Harvard Business School. They were joined by two other married couples, all of whom were asked to speak about their choice of careers. Ann was the only one among them who was a full-time stay-at-home mother, and she was the last to speak.
“She described the requirements of her profession,” he said. “Being a mother required the utmost skills of persuasion, psychology, instruction, tutoring, organization, management, health care and compassion. Hers, she concluded, was the most important, most demanding and most rewarding profession she could imagine.”
After a pause, the class of ambitious MBA students gave her a standing ovation, Romney recounted.
On God, Missions and Service
“Finding God launches our lives into the deep, and abundantly fills our nets.”
“For me, serving God first meant going on a mission to France.”
“Mission years are the best years, in part, because they are the hardest years.”
“When you are living to the fullest, beyond yourself, beyond comfort, life is most full and exhilarating.”
“Serving God takes us into the deepest waters of life.”
Romney recounted a conversation he had with a friend who lives in Salt Lake City. She recently saw a man out shoveling snow for several people, and was surprised to see that is was an LDS apostle, Elder Russell M. Nelson, who now is 88 years old.
“Serving God does not depend upon the position you have.”
“God is ‘no respecter of persons,’ nor is He a respecter of positions.”
For one who has been wildly successful in his business and related pursuits, some may be surprised by Romney’s thoughts about the degree to which God wants people to be rich and successful.
“On this topic of your career, I have some news that you may find disappointing. I don’t think God cares whether you get rich,” he said. “I don’t think he hopes that your business will make a huge profit. I know a lot of religious people who think God will intervene to make their investments grow, or will get them a promotion, or make their business a success. But life on this earth is about learning to live and work in a place where God does not make everything work out for good people. We learn through our study, our effort, our choices, and yes, by our failures as well as by our successes.”
“Your occupation is also a part of abundant living, and living into the deepest waters.”
“The Creator gave us work for our benefit.”
“Dive into your profession with passion and heart. Go beyond what’s expected or required.”
“The secret to advancement . . . doing your present job well.”
The Proper Balance
In a statement that may encapsulate his feelings about his failed presidential bid, Romney said that the spiritual matters more than the worldly.
“Our worldly success can’t be guaranteed, but our ability to achieve spiritual success is entirely up to us, thanks to the grace of God,” he said. “The best advice I know is to give those worldly things your best but never your all, reserving your ultimate hope for the only one who can grant it.”
“You only live one life. Don’t spend it in safe, shallow water.”
“If you meet a person you love, get married. Have a quiver full of kids if you can.”
“Serve God by serving his children.”
“Seize any opportunity that may come along that will expand your mind and challenge your abilities.”
Romney was invited to speak at Southern Virginia’s graduation by his former mission companion and longtime friend, Dr. Dane McBride, who is vice-chair of the university’s board of trustees.
Southern Virginia University is a small, private liberal arts college at which nine out of 10 students are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and all students are required to follow a code of honor that embraces the church’s values.
Disclosure: Burke Olsen previously worked at Southern Virginia University.
Burke Olsen is the content director for deseretnews.com.