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For Liberty students, graduation a moment of celebration, with or without Romney’s speech
Over 14,000 students graduated from Liberty University in 2012. Around 6,000 attended the commencement ceremony.
May 12th, 2012
02:14 PM ET

For Liberty students, graduation a moment of celebration, with or without Romney’s speech

By Dan Merica, CNN

Lynchburg, Virginia (CNN) - When Michelle Berry got up this morning, she wasn’t thinking about Mitt Romney. For her, this day was a long time coming.

Berry, a 48-year old senior at Liberty University, has dreamed of college graduation for a long time. After finishing high school 30-years ago, Berry got her associates degree in nursing. Until today, a bachelor’s degree has eluded her.

“For me personally, it is all about that fact that this is my day,” Berry said. “I earned it.”

Berry’s graduation, however, wasn’t your normal pomp-and-circumstance moment. Liberty’s 2012 commencement has been shrouded in controversy since the evangelical Christian university announced that Mitt Romney, a Mormon, would be the keynote speaker.

Berry expressed a feeling that was similar to what many Liberty students walking in today’s graduation told CNN. Most students said that today is their day and whether they support Romney, the graduation speaker does not change the fact that they have worked countless hours for this moment and can’t wait for their tassels from left to right.

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Donning decorated graduation caps and long, black gowns, many of today’s 6,000 graduates echoed Moore’s statement and the online hubbub that erupted over Romney’s selection was not on their minds.

“This has been a while coming, that is all this is really about,” said Leanzar Stockley, a student graduation with a bachelors in Christian Counseling. “I earned this and it is a success for my family and for myself.”

Stockley said he is neutral on Romney and hasn't been following politics much – “on purpose,” he said.

“Who is speaking, it doesn't really bother me too much,” Stockley said. “I am just happy to be here.”

Other students were excited to see Romney.

“I am personally thankful that he is here because I would rather have a potential president speak at my graduation than someone who is just a celebrity,” said graduating senior Jeanel Potts.

Potts will be leaving Lynchburg to work as a nurse at the University of Virginia hospital in Charlottesville, Virginia. She said she disregarded those who had an issue with Romney speaking at commencement.

“I feel like there is a lot of contention, but a lot of it is from people who aren’t even walking,” Potts said. “If the people walking don’t have a problem with it, than other people shouldn't.”

Some graduates said that they hoped Romney would not use this event to talk about politics. Instead, they said, he should inspire the graduates and talk about his experience in the real world.

Romney did speak a great deal about his experiences in life, mentioning his time leading the Salt Lake Olympics, his time in the business community and, at times, his political aspirations.

“I’ve found myself thinking about life in four-year stretches,” Romney joked.

More than anything, though, his speech was deeply spiritual, mentioning the stress he puts on family and his belief that marriage is between a man and a woman, a line the earned him a standing ovation from the crowd. He regularly cited the bible and other Christian figures, while also mentioning that his faith was different than some in the crowd.

“People of different faiths, like yours and mine, sometimes wonder where we can meet in common purpose, when there are so many differences in creed and theology,” Romney said. “Surely the answer is that we can meet in service, in shared moral convictions about our nation stemming from a common worldview.”

At the end of his speech, Romney looked to inspire the students.

“Sometimes, your Liberty education will set you apart, and always it will help direct your path,” Romney said. “And as you now leave, and make for new places near and far, I hope for each one of you that your path will be long and life will be kind.”

Mat Staver, dean of the Liberty Law School, said the speech would earn Romney points in the evangelical community.

“I think it will be a major boost for him within the evangelical community at large,” said Staver. “He didn't she away from the issues of importance.”

Staver continued: “It was really more a message of encouragement to our graduates about faith and about maintaining their faith and moral compass as they go out into the world.”

Tony Perkins, a graduate of Liberty University and president of the Family Research Council, congratulated Romney on his speech, stating in a press release that Romney had "picked up on the message that energized Rick Santorum's campaign."

"Today's address was a tremendous opportunity for Governor Mitt Romney to communicate to social conservatives... and Mr. Romney seized it by emphasizing the shared values he holds with evangelicals even while acknowledging theological differences," the release stated. "In his well-delivered speech, he accentuated the core values issues that are essential to a strong nation and of great importance to evangelicals."

Prior to commencement, though, a vocal group of people took to newspapers, Facebook and Twitter to protest Romney’s selection.

Over 700 comments were registered on the Liberty University Facebook page – many of which questioned why a university that teaches Mormonism is a cult, would select someone of that faith to address their students. “I can’t support Romney and I am happy I decided not to walk (in the commencement) this year,” wrote student Josh Bergmann.

In the Liberty Champion, the school's newspaper, one columnist wrote that Liberty University’s selection of Romney was “cause for concern.” “If Liberty were a secular institution, this would not be a big deal — but it is not,” read the column. “If Liberty wants to wear the Christian T-shirt, so to speak, then it needs to follow through with the guides set forth in the Bible.”

In response to the protest, Liberty University decided to delete the announcement from their Facebook page. Johnnie Moore, vice president of executive projects and spiritual programs, defended the decision.

In particular, Moore said in a statement that the students were primarily online students and “were not as familiar with Liberty University's traditions.” “Here [on campus], it wasn’t all that controversial,” Moore told CNN. “I don't think it was as controversial as some perceived it to be. It has actually been quite on the contrary. We have received tons of positive feed back.”

The negative sentiments that led up the Romney’s speech, however, were barely seen during his address. In large part, the crowd was receptive to Romney.

“I think it was safe, because he is of Mormon background, he did play it safe with his choice of words,” said Shelanne Jennings, a graduating senior with a bachelor's degree in journalism. “I may not agree with all that he says, but he did really point back to Christ and I think that is the most important thing.”

Standing near the stage, Vincent Valeriano was smiling to ear to ear while talking on the phone. The intercultural studies major stood with his mother, who also graduated from Liberty today.

“I think he did a great job,” said Valeriano. “It was very uplifting and encouraging.”

His mom beamed with pride after the ceremony, as did her son – around them families were hugging, celebrating and snapping photos. Students exchanged hugs and wished each other well. Many talked about plans for later tonight.

Romney had long left the lectern, on his way to continue with what will likely be a grueling campaign for the presidency. Students at Liberty remained on the field, reveling in their accomplishments and about their own future.

For them, today’s graduation was about their accomplishments and they were happy to leave it at that.

- Dan Merica

Filed under: 2012 Election • Christianity • Mitt Romney • Mormonism • Politics

soundoff (55 Responses)
  1. Angiey Lenherrg

    Really enjoyed this update, can you make it so I receive an email sent to me every time you write a new post?

    July 17, 2012 at 1:19 am |
  2. kindness

    This is my experience... Thank you.

    MY personal testimony.
    A thought to consider without an ego response

    Accept Jesus christ as your lord and saviour. You never know how soon is too late. Transcend the worldly illusion of enslavement.
    The world denounces truth....

    Accepting Jesus Christ (for me) resulted in something like seeng a new colour. You will see it .....but will not be able to clearly explain it to anyone else..... Its meant to be that way to transend any selfism within you.

    Also... much the world arranges "surrounding dark matter into something to be debated" in such a way that protects/inflates the ego.

    The key is be present and transcend our own desire to physically see evidence. We don't know anyways by defending our own perception of dark matter.

    Currently.... most of us are constructing our own path that suits our sin lifestyle. Were all sinners. Knowing that we are is often an issue. But both christians and non are sinners.

    We don't like to Let go and let god. We want control to some degree. This is what Jesus asks us to do. "Follow me".
    It's the hardest thing to do... but is done by letting the truth of scripture lead you (redemptive revelation)... as I said .

    Try reading corinthians and see if it makes sense to you. Try it without a pre conceived notion of it being a fairy tale.
    See the truth...
    do we do what it says in todays society... is it relevant... so many have not recently read and only hinge their philosophy on what they have heard from som other person...which may have been full of arogance pride or vanity..

    Look closely at the economy ponzi, look at how society idolizes Lust , greed , envy, sloth, pride of life, desire for knowledge, desire for power, desire for revencge,gluttony with food etc .

    Trancsend the temporal world.

    Just think if you can find any truth you can take with you ....in any of these things. When you die your riches go to someone who will spend away your life..... You will be forgotten.... history will repeat iteslf.... the greatest minds knowledge fade or are eventually plagerzed..... your good deeds will be forgotten and only give you a fleeting temporary reward . your learned teachings are forgotten or mutated..... your gold is transfered back to the rullers that rule you through deception. Your grave will grow over . This is truth .

    Trancsend your egoism and free yourself from this dominion of satan. Understand you are a sinner and part of the collective problem of this worldly matrix... Repent.... Repent means knowing (to change) The Holy spirit (within) will convict you beyond what you think you can do by yourself. Grace is given to those who renounce the world. That are" in" the world but not "of " the world.

    Evidence follows faith. Faith does not follow evidence..... Faith above reason in Jesus Christ.

    Faith comes by Reading or Hearing the word of god from the bible . Ask Jesus in faith for dicernment and start reading the new testament... You will be shocked when you lay down your preconceived notions and ....see and hear truth ... see how christ sets an example ... feel the truth....

    Read Ecclesiastes. Read corinthians.

    You cant trancend your own egoism by adapting a world philosophy to suit your needs. Seek the truth in Christ.

    Sell all your cleverness and purchase true bewilderment. You don't get what you want ....you get what you are in christ.

    I promise this has been the truth for me. In Jesus christ .

    Think of what you really have to lose. ...your ego?

    Break the Matrix of illusion that holds your senses captive.

    once you do . you too will have the wisdom of God that comes only through the Holy Spirit. Saved By grace through Faith. Just like seeing a new colour.... can't explain it to a transient caught in the matrix of worldly deception.
    You will also see how the world suppresses this information and distorts it

    You're all smart people . I tell the truth. Its hard to think out of the box when earthly thinking is the box.
    I'ts a personal free experience you can do it free anytime . Don't wait till you are about to die.. START PUTTING YOUR TREASURES WHERE THEY REALLY MATTER >
    Its awsome and It's just between you and Jesus

    my testimony

    Romans 10:9

    "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved

    June 15, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
    • TROLL ALERT

      click the report abuse link to get rid of this TROLL, hopefully soon they'll block their IP address so they can't post this garbage anymore!

      June 15, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
  3. GodFreeNow

    Hooray! I got a degree based on a belief in a delusional mythology!!! Here I come politics and abortion clinic bombings! Here's to a life of stereotyping and bigotry.

    May 16, 2012 at 10:54 pm |
  4. biologixco

    Sitting at the end of a long corridor in a large building in Salt Lake City is the mormon "War Room". This is where the mormon "church" is monitoring what is being said about the their "church" (cult!) on blogs like this during the ROMNEY campaign. Read their comments. They ALL sound alike, trying to get you to go to their mormon website. (DONT drink THAT Kool Aid!)
    They craft the message to portray mormons in a positive light. This is where the "I'm a Mormon" TV ad campaign was shot/edited. Like any cult, they closely control any aspect about public messages regarding the mormon church. Now just watch how a litany of mormoons will deny this. But they have waited a long long time for this. They want this presidency badly. Then they control the White House and with Harry Reid they control the Senate. Mormons will have co-opted 2 of 3 of our elected branches of government. Sprinkle in some mormoon Supreme Court justices and you have a mormon TAKEOVER OF THE US GOVERNMENT!.
    Google: The White Horse Prophecy. Understand what the evil mormonians are REALLY up to!

    May 15, 2012 at 10:59 am |
  5. Kevin Jones

    This is an excellent assessment. No one will ever agree on a speaker, but we can all agree on recognition of accomplishment. Thank you for this article.

    May 14, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
    • biologixco

      Don't drink that Kool Aid folks

      May 15, 2012 at 10:59 am |
  6. Uncouth Swain

    Why do I feel that most of these students could care less who spoke? I mean...how many of you really cared who spoke at your graduation?

    May 14, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
    • Joalisson

      Diana,When Romney answers yes it'll halrdy rock the boat unless so-called Christians doing the questioning further imitate their Pharisee predicessors and try spouting anti-Mormon ignorance. Nobody asking about Romney's beliefs has a true interest in his political stance, since the two are separate. They are just picking fights, stirring contention, and hoping to obscure truth.It's interesting that so-called Christians are anything but Christlike.

      October 9, 2012 at 11:37 pm |
  7. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    May 14, 2012 at 4:26 am |
    • Jesus

      Prayer doesn’t not; you are such a LIAR. You have NO proof it changes anything! A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work and their children died. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.

      An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.

      The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs!.*!~

      May 14, 2012 at 10:53 am |
    • bigdoggie

      If that's what gets you through your day, fine. But, please keep your myths and legends to yourself. Personally, I would question the credentials of anyone who "graduated" from Liberty u (small 'u" intended). I don't want a nuse to believe that a laying of hands is going to be more effective than an EKG and a CBC!

      May 23, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
  8. Kizzy Berry

    I was just proud of my sister and her accomplishments on Saturday. Mitt Romney was a non factor in the accomplishments that she achieved. The introduction was a little too political for me but at the end of the day the election will prove who the best candidate for the job is.

    May 13, 2012 at 9:09 pm |
  9. rationalfew

    I see a new army of deluded conservative youth hatched to infest the earth. Filled to the top of their pointy heads with religious dogma.

    May 13, 2012 at 7:11 pm |
    • Ronald Reganzo

      Thank God

      May 14, 2012 at 4:26 am |
    • bigdoggie

      To Ronald: Which one? Vishnu? Ganesh? Zues? Jupiter? My personal favorite, Aphrodite? There are just so many mythical gods, I'll just choose logic and rationality.

      May 23, 2012 at 3:32 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.