Fredericksburg, Va. – Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, delivered the commencement address for the University of Mary Washington’s class of 2007 on Saturday, May 12. In a Speaker-to-Speaker event, he was introduced by William J. Howell, speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates.
Approximately 5,000 people, including graduates, family members, friends and faculty, gathered in Ball Circle for the 96th annual commencement.
A total of 1,154 degrees were awarded, including one master of arts in liberal studies degree, 65 master of business administration degrees, 129 master of education degrees, 38 master of science in elementary education degrees, 410 bachelor of arts degrees, 70 bachelor of liberal studies degrees, 56 bachelor of professional studies degrees and 385 bachelor of science degrees.
In his introduction, Howell applauded the students’ successes and chronicled Gingrinch’s life work. “While there are many titles, accomplishments and accolades associated with Speaker Gingrich, the approbation that I find most apt is one he has in common with you: He’s a student at heart. He shares the passion for knowledge and discovery that has driven your studies – and achievements – at Mary Washington,” Howell said.
Gingrich, who holds a bachelor’s degree from Emory University and a master’s degree and doctorate in modern European history from Tulane University, taught history and environmental studies at West Georgia College for eight years.
First elected to the United States Congress in 1978, Gingrich served the citizens of the Sixth District of Georgia for 20 years. He was the architect who engineered the “Contract with America,” which led the Republican Party to win its first majority in the U.S. House of
Representatives in 40 years. From 1994 to 1998, he served as the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
To guide the graduates, Gingrich offered five rules based on citizenship and life that he has learned through the years. The first rule, he said, is to dream big. “If you don’t have the courage at your age to dream big, you won’t acquire it at 60,” he said. Secondly, to live out this dream, a person will need to work hard. He told the audience, “I want to encourage each of you to have the courage to focus on your dreams, to allocate your time to living out your life and to be prepared to pay for that dream in the currency of work.”
Gingrich’s third rule is to learn everyday. “I’m now 63, and I’ve written a substantial number of books, done a fair number of things and I found myself this morning on the way here, learning and studying… and I would encourage each of you to recognize that the world is so large; life is so rich; there is so much around you that you will never finish learning unless you literally die in your mind and cease to be part of life.”
In conjunction with the third rule, Gingrich’s fourth piece of advice is for the graduates to enjoy life and find what is worth doing so they wake up excited about their lives everyday. Finally, according to Gingrich, the fifth rule is to be true to oneself.
“You are at the beginning of a generation which you will learn more science, create more wealth and expand freedom greater than any generation in the history of the human race. But to be that successful, we must have citizens who are true to themselves and have the courage to stand up for the truth as they understand it.”
In closing, Gingrich brought the audience’s attention to the closing line of the national anthem, which was sung earlier in the ceremony. “We are the land of the free and the home of the brave. I would suggest that part of the lesson you should take from the University of Mary Washington is that her son understood fully that if we are to be free, we have to be brave.”