Remembering the Late President George H.W. Bush at Duke's 1998 Commencement

George H.W. Bush talks with students following the 1998 commencement ceremony. Photo courtesy University Archives.
George H.W. Bush talks with students following the 1998 commencement ceremony. Photo courtesy University Archives.

All flags on campus have been lowered for 30 days at the order of Gov. Roy Cooper in honor and remembrance of the life of our nation's 41st U.S. President, George H.W. Bush. Flags will return to full-staff on December 31, 2018 at sunrise.

Bush, who will be honored in a state funeral Wednesday, died Nov. 30 in Houston.

After his presidency, Bush visited Duke University to deliver the address at the 1998 commencement ceremony. In the address he reflected upon his own graduation and the troubled times that he and his fellow graduates had survived.

"My class was 1948," he said in the commencement address. "We had all come back from the war, sights high, optimism raging. Most of us went off in different parts of the country to work. We'd seen in World War II many classmates die. Indeed 245 Duke graduates gave their lives fighting for the cause of freedom in World War II.

"We saw the horrors of war and then we knew the joys of victory. And we watch as our nation, in victory, embraced our former enemies, lifted them up, rebuilt their countries and helped nurture their new democracies."

In his speech, Bush warned graduates of a growing isolationism building in the United States in 1998. He told the students that they were entering a “world that is safer and better than one faced by past generations,” but with enough problems that the United States must remain engaged in solving large social and political problems.

He also told students that throughout his public life, he treasured most the ability to count on the support of family and friends who would lift him up during setbacks.

"I was president of the United States of America, and I concluded that what matters is your family and your faith and your friends and that you've made friends who will last you a lifetime. Most of all, you've been blessed by the abiding love of parents which have guided you; you've been blessed by the values they've taught you, which will sustain you through success and hard times alike. You've been given all this and more so what will you do with your life? Will you constantly bitch and sit on the sidelines, complaining when things go wrong? Are you going to be selfish and say 'why me' or 'if it feels good I'll do it?' Or will you roll up your sleeves and put something back or will you strive to lift someone up?

"President Keohane said you've already started on that. Help others, all the while giving credit to someone else. Will you say politics is lousy and all politicians are crooks and sit whining on the sidelines? Or are you going to serve society and serve your country?"

Former President George H. W. Bush with Duke President Nannerl O. Keohane at the 1998 commencement ceremony. Courtesy University Archives