Senator McConnell Addresses the Centre College Graduating Class of 2003

Date: May 25, 2003
Location: Danville, KY


WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell today addressed the graduating class of 2003 at Centre College's Commencement. During the ceremony, Senator McConnell and his wife, Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao, also received honorary degrees from Centre College. The text of Senator McConnell's Commencement Address follows:

"Elaine beat me to the punch by praising Centre College and the accomplishments of its esteemed alumni, so I will only note that the last time I visited your beautiful campus it was for the 2000 Vice Presidential Debate. I don't believe the graduates are old enough to realize this, but the exchange between Vice President Dick Cheney and my colleague Joe Lieberman was one of the most genuine political debates since these staples of the presidential campaign were first televised.

"The body politic is grateful to you for helping to transform a typically staged exchange of campaign rhetoric into a meaningful dialogue about the important issues facing our country.

"To the Graduates of the Class of 2003, congratulations on your graduation from Centre College. As graduates of one of the Country's best liberal arts colleges, you should be proud of your accomplishments.

"To the Faculty and Administration, you are to be commended for helping to prepare yet another class of students for entry into the world that lies beyond college.

"To the Parents, congratulations on putting your child through college without going crazy or bankrupt.

"Graduates, you are graduating from college at an interesting and critical time for our country, and for the world.

"Towards the beginning of your Junior year, terrorists struck the United States, killing thousands of innocent civilians and causing shock and anguish in our country not seen since the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor sixty-two years ago.

"The world has changed both dramatically and rapidly since you arrived at this campus as freshmen. Indeed, the world is still changing in the wake of the attacks of September 11 and our subsequent war against terrorism.

"While no one can be sure what the future holds for our country, it is clear that America's values, objectives, and standing in the world will remain the same. And it will be your charge to uphold these values and traditions in the face of an uncertain future.

"Let me share with you a few thoughts on America's enduring - and, indeed, unique - place in the world.

"America's foreign policy is shaped not merely by threats to our national security, but also by America's compassionate values and commitment to the belief that all mankind yearns - and deserves - to be free. Think about that for a second - America was founded on the notion that every human being has a right to freedom, and that all of us are created equal. That was truly a revolutionary premise on which to found a nation.

"Think also about the US Army's 5th Special Forces Group, an elite Special Forces unit based at Fort Campbell, Kentucky that was among the first units to enter both Afghanistan and Iraq, where they coordinated air strikes and mobilized local opposition to the brutal Taliban and Hussein regimes.

"The motto of this elite unit of American soldiers is "de Oppresso Liber." Translated from the Latin their motto reminds these brave Americans of their duty to "liberate the oppressed."

"The actions of these brave soldiers remind us that America fights not for territory or treasure, but for freedom, security, and democracy.

"Young Americans throughout our history have given their lives on distant shores not for conquest, but to liberate oppressed peoples throughout the world.

"Between your high school graduation and your commencement today, American forces have been involved in three major military operations: Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

"And only because the United States acted when no other country would, millions who would otherwise be suffering under despotic regimes are free.

"The war in Iraq is over, but our commitment to the people of Iraq has just begun, and we are actively helping them to build a stable and democratic society.

"Still, oppression and violence remain a powerful force in the world. Brutal regimes throughout the world continue to stifle the voices of millions struggling to be free.

"I believe America has an obligation to help these individuals. Through diplomacy, trade, sanctions, humanitarian assistance, and - only when absolutely necessary - the use of force, the United States must continue to defend itself, and encourage oppressive governments to undo the binds that keep their citizens captive.

"As you begin the next phase of your life, consider America's role in the world, and how you - as an individual - can uphold America's values both at home and abroad.

"Keep in mind what is unique about America's place in the world: it protects the security of its citizens, but also aids the poor and hunger in less-developed countries, and helps to guarantee liberty and freedom to growing numbers of individuals throughout the world.

"Model your life on American foreign policy: look out for your own security and strive to reach your personal aspirations, but also help others to achieve theirs. In doing so, you will improve your self, your country, and the world."