Vice President Dick Cheney told Brigham Young University graduates on Thursday to savor second chances and be prepared for the unexpected throughout life in a commencement address that stirred up protests in one of the nation’s most Republican states.
“Don’t give up or let your doubts get the best of you,” Cheney said. “For all the plans we make in life, sometimes life has other plans for us.”
On a campus where dissent is unusual, about 100 people protested quietly ahead of Cheney’s arrival, holding signs reading: “Mormon for peace” and “Make soup, not war.”
Utah voters have consistently supported the administration, delivering President Bush his largest margins of victory in any state in 2000 and 2004. In the county that is home to the university, about 85 percent of voters chose the GOP ticket in 2004.
But the war in Iraq has weakened support for the White House. Cheney critics at BYU have questioned whether he sets a good example for graduates, citing his role in promoting faulty intelligence and his involvement in the CIA leak scandal, which led to his chief of staff’s conviction for perjury and obstruction of justice.
Cheney’s 14-minute address to more than 6,200 graduates didn’t touch on any political topics. He thanked the school’s ROTC members for their service and said they would be joining a military that is “a great force for justice, freedom and security.”
Outside, the protesters on campus were not allowed to chant or make noise or attack The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said Darren Jackson, 22, president-elect of the College Democrats.
“This war has been mishandled,” said Jackson, who acknowledged the group had only about 25 active members, “which isn’t much out of 30,000 students.”
A handful of veterans holding a peace banner stood on a street corner off campus.
At the nearby city library, College Republicans and others passed out U.S. flags and held up welcome signs.
“We are just here to show there’s a lot of support for the vice president in Provo,” said BYU student Colby Green, 22, of Orem. “We wanted people to know that the vocal minority is not the majority.”
That became clear when Cheney was introduced. He received thunderous applause from the 20,000 people at gathered at the university, which is owned by the Mormon church. The crowd cheered louder for Cheney than they did for church President Gordon B. Hinckley, whom Mormons consider a prophet.
“I think there were a lot of people making up for the controversy surrounding his attendance,” said Mackenzie Clark of Summit, N.J., who graduated with degrees in business and international relations.
Cheney was awarded an honorary doctorate in public service before his speech.
“I thought it was very non-political and applicable to our lives,” Nathan Brown, 26, of Pymouth, Calif., who graduated with degrees in history and economics, said after commencement. “I think all the protests were for nothing.”
Cheney’s BYU speech is one of two commencement addresses he is scheduled to give. The other is May 26 at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
Bush won 72 percent of the vote here in the last election, his widest margin of victory. Public opinion polls routinely show his approval ratings are higher in Utah than in any other state. Denver Post