Secretary Elaine Chao

 
 
 

Regent University Commencement Address

Thank you, Dr. [M.G. “Pat”] Robertson [President & Chancellor of Regent University], for that warm introduction.

Good morning!

Graduates, parents, and especially mothers—let’s not forget that tomorrow is Mother’s Day—trustees, faculty, friends and family… I am delighted to join you today for the commencement of Regent University’s largest graduating class to date—824 strong!
What started out as one small campus in Virginia Beach today has expanded to Washington, D.C. and the world. I understand that you have 87 graduates from 30 foreign countries. And 26 graduates traveled all the way from South Korea just to be here at today’s commencement.

I want to recognize Dr. Robertson for his leadership in building this great institution of higher education. I salute the administrators, students, parents and supporters who have helped make Regent what it is today. And I want to pay special tribute to the faculty. You do much more than impart knowledge. You give your students something of your self, your experience and your life.

The growth of Regent University shows just how hungry the world is for scholarship that is founded upon faith.

Indeed, the union of scholarship and faith is as old as the oldest universities in this nation and many of the oldest universities in the world.

An anonymous author once noted that Socrates and Aristotle taught for 40 years. Plato taught for fifty years. Jesus taught for only 3 years.

Yet compare the reach and influence of Christ’s three years of teaching to the combined 130 years of teaching by the greatest philosophers of antiquity.

Both philosophy and knowledge speak to the mind. But faith alone speaks to the heart. In Washington, they say that knowledge is power. But we know that faith offers more than power. It offers strength, peace and hope.

When scholarship and faith act in concert—what a powerful combination for good in the world!

This insight forms the basis of Regent’s curriculum. When people enrich their faith with knowledge—and leaven their knowledge with faith—they become more useful both to God and to their fellow men and women.
They are able to better connect the ideal with the practical.

They are able to define and pursue the ethical imperatives of their beliefs—much like our Nation’s Founders did.

And they are able to bring human warmth and spiritual fire to the ideology of the intellect.

The world—as we find it in 2003—is in great need of people like this… people like all of you.

You are about to enter a world that is hungry for spirituality and truth, yet hesitant to embrace these qualities.

You can see this resistance played out in reactions to our President’s Christian faith. On the one hand, some find his expressions of faith alarming and raise fears about the separation of church and state.

Others are frankly taken aback when the President says that liberty is a gift from God. They seem to have forgotten that this view is part of the Declaration of Independence.

Some find it strange that the first thing President Bush reads each morning is not the Washington Post, but “My Utmost for His Highest.”

And others are uncomfortable when the president articulates moral judgments, such as describing terrorists as “evildoers.” They feel such pronouncements have no place in the exercise of foreign policy.

Yet even those who don’t understand the language of faith, find themselves admiring the sincerity of the President’s faith.

They appreciate the qualities that flow from faith: the President’s decency, his gift of compassion and his clear resolve.

The President’s moral compass is clearly reflected in his leadership on social issues, but also in his reforms directed against corporate financial wrongdoing.

He meets with ex-convicts and former welfare mothers, who share their feelings about how government-aided, faith-based programs changed their lives through the power of God.

He made education—and the promise that no child will be left behind—his number one domestic priority.

And he has spoken out forcefully for tolerance of other religious traditions, and welcomed men and women of all faiths into the White House.

You might ask: how is all of this relevant to me today?

After you graduate and begin or resume your professional lives, many of you will encounter skepticism about your faith.

What the world needs from you is the living expression of the mercy that touched the lepers.

The integrity that removed the money-changers from the Temple.

The inclusiveness that spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well.

And the compassion that exhorted us to visit the sick and the prisoner.

I don’t want you to think, however, that in order to make a difference you have to aspire to be President of the United States or a cabinet member.

Every calling is equally important and every act of kindness or goodness is equally great.

The wonderful thing about individual acts of kindness and goodness is how they combine to produce unexpected results.

Let me give you a personal example.

I am standing here today as a Cabinet Secretary because of the courage of my parents, the kindness of many strangers and the generosity of a Christian university.

My father, an American of Chinese descent, had left China in 1949 amidst a civil war. In the chaos of leaving his homeland, he was unable to bring his university transcript with him. In fact, he wasn’t able to bring very much with him at all. After he married, my parents decided to try to come to this country because they wanted to give their children the freedom and opportunity that America provides to everyone.

Education is very important in Asian culture. So when my father came to America, he wanted to pursue an advanced degree. But a number of well-known American universities would not admit him because he had no transcript—no concrete proof that he had graduated from a university.

Then, one day, through some newfound acquaintances, my father met Father Easterly—a local Catholic parish priest who was also an Executive Vice President of St. John’s University. He listened to my father’s story. And even though my family was not Catholic, Father Easterly arranged for my father to get an interview with the Dean at St. John’s University—a Catholic institution in New York.

Despite the fact that my father couldn’t produce a transcript, St. John’s believed in him and admitted him to graduate school. My father worked very hard and went on to earn a graduate degree. That expertise was key to building a better life for his family. My family and I will always be grateful in ways that words alone cannot express. If St. John’s hadn’t been there for my father, I don’t think I’d be standing here before you today.

St. John’s accepted my father because it understood that education is more than a collection of facts and figures to be memorized and recited for exams. Like Regent University—it educates the whole person and teaches that we are all responsible to a higher power. That philosophy allows Christian universities to go far beyond other institutions—which like Doubting Thomas—need proof before they will take a chance and believe.

As graduates of Regent University, you understand that faith gives us the ability to trust.

You know that faith cuts through the fog of perception, to reveal what is really there.

And you recognize that faith gives us the courage to keep trying, no matter how many times we fail.

After you graduate today, one thing is certain: all of us will make mistakes. But the important thing to remember is that in God’s plan there is always a second chance—and many more if you need it. If you stumble, pick yourself up and keep going.
Tomorrow is a new day.

You are already blessed in that you have received a great education and a set of core values to guide you through life.

There is no more precious gift than that.

As you leave here today, I want you to remember one more thing: whateveryou do, do it with your whole heart.

As someone who has climbed the ranks in the public, private and non-profit sectors, I can tell you that success is in the details. Success is doing each small task well, as if nothing else mattered.

So thank you for inviting me to share with you this special day of commitment, renewal and achievement. God bless each of you as you embark on your exciting new journey. And God bless America.