The air at Liberty College is one mixed with pride, excitement and slight tension as the school prepares for US President Donald Trump to deliver a commencement speech on campus grounds, Washington Post reports.
Students at the largest Christian varsity in the country are mostly eager for the historical day where Trump will be the first sitting president to speak at the college since George H.W. Bush in 1990. The school voted for Trump as the then-Republican candidate by a landslide compared to Hillary Clinton.
“I think it’s an awesome, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” 20-year-old sophomore Isaac Deal said.
“He is our authority and he is our leader, no matter what you think of his policies.”
President Trump to deliver commencement address at Liberty U https://t.co/Foz2n045v6
— MONEY on College (@Money_College) March 28, 2017
John Wood, a junior, repeated the same “awesome” comment about the event, saying “most people here are generally excited about that”.
However, it’s not all elation and excitement. There are those who, despite the thrill of having a sitting president deliver a commencement speech, also feel slight worry because of Trump’s penchant for saying erratic things.
“There’s definitely some apprehension because he can say crazy things,” Meredith Boyce, a senior, said.
“I’m just praying no one does anything stupid.”
Instead of Liberty, it is usually University of Notre Dame that invites first-year US presidents to give the commencement address, a tradition that spans a few decades.
But amid debate surrounding the prospect of the current president delivering the speech there, the school announced last month Vice-President Michael Richard “Mike” Pence would be this year’s commencement speaker instead, whom the school praised for his “reserved dignity”.
Clash of values
Liberty students with a stronger aversion to this year’s selected speaker cite their differences with Trump’s views as their reason for not supporting his appearance on campus. Some even plan to skip their own graduation ceremony for this same reason.
— Affinity Magazine (@TheAffinityMag) April 6, 2017
Jasmine Crowder, an MBA student at Liberty, told Affinity Magazine she does not support the president’s “racist, sexist, homophobic, etc. beliefs” and would not want to be around such “energy”. She said she had decided to organise a small graduation party at home instead.
“I chose not to go because I don’t support anything Trump stands for. I choose moral consciousness over walking across the stage,” she said.
“I choose to start this chapter of my life not with such negativity, but with people who can inspire me to do better, be better, and love more. Plus I want to spare the brain cells of hearing him ramble,” Crowder, who also does not recognise Trump as her president, said.
Another student not looking forward to Trump’s speech at her school is Deliani Velez. The nursing student says, being a feminist and Hispanic, her values clash “a lot” with the current president.
Twenty-year-old Joshua Abrahams, who is black, shares Velez’s sentiment. He notes the marked difference between how the different race groups are reacting to Trump’s speech.
“My Caucasian friends are excited he’s coming. My African American friends are not.” – Abrahams
“He’s a great businessman, but his comments are unnecessary. He insults everybody and I don’t like that.”
Trump’s lack of popularity among these students extends beyond the president’s stance on race issues. Even among those excited to hear him, there is desire for the president to speak with substance and not deliver a predictable stump speech.
“As long as he puts America before himself, he’ll do a lot more good than if he is just about his ego,” 21-year-old Caleb Brown said.
“I want him to be specific, not just more rhetoric.”