Liberty University's graduating class of 2017 was witness to Donald Trump's first commencement address as a sitting president.
More than 18,000 graduates and their families listened to Trump speak on May 13th as the first president to address a Liberty graduation since George H.W. Bush in 1990. Trump also received an honorary doctorate from the Baptist-affiliated university in Lynchburg, Va.
Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr., in introducing Trump, said he has done more to benefit the Christian community than any other president in recent history.
"President Trump's actions in the last four months speak for themselves," Falwell said. "He reaffirmed this nation's support for the state of Israel, he appointed a conservative pro-life justice to the Supreme Court, he appointed more men and women of faith to his cabinet than any other president in recent memory, and last week he signed an executive order ... to return political free speech rights to churches, religious leaders and universities like this one."
This is the third time Trump has spoken at Liberty. He spoke there following convocation addresses during his presidential campaign in January 2016, and in September 2012 when he also received an honorary doctorate.
"There's no place in the world that I'd rather be to give my first commencement address as president than here with my wonderful friends at Liberty University," Trump said.
Affirming the mission of Liberty University to train champions for Christ and for the country's commitment to God, Trump said, "In America, we don't worship government, we worship God."
Both Trump and Falwell spent much of their time on stage calling the class of 2017 to persevere through difficult times in their careers.
"When you begin your career, remember that nothing will take the place of persistence," Falwell said.
Trump, echoing the theme, said, "If I give you one message to hold in your hearts today it is this: Never ever give up." There will be "times in your life where you want to quit, but just never quit."
The president also urged students to dream big and hold fast to their convictions in the face of criticism.
"Nothing worth doing ever came easy, but the future belongs to the dreamer not the critic," Trump said. "Treat the word 'impossible' simply as motivation, and most importantly do what you love."
Trump told the graduates: "This is your day and you've earned every minute of it. I am looking at the next generation of leaders of our country."
Timothy Cockes is a freelance writer for the SBC of Virginia Convention.