A graduation to remember: Bush 41 delivers commencement address at Monmouth College in 2000

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Some college students get sent into the world at graduation with words of wisdom from a current or former President.

Monmouth College might be one of the last places people would expect to find a Commander and Chief giving that address, but in 2000, George  H.W. Bush made for a memorable graduation for more than 200 students.

George H.W. Bush said to the students in May 2000, “Today, I want to call for a new patriotism.”

Monmouth College Historian Jeffrey Rankin said, “He had three points that he basically wanted to get across to students. The first one was to lead by example.”

Rankin continued, “Number two I thought was pretty interesting, he said you should listen to your parents.”

“Third was tied to his concept of a thousand points a light. He said students need to get out into the community,” he finished.

A student back in 2000 told Local Four News, “It’s great to be graduating and then to have an ex-president, you know, it just makes it that much more special.”

Monmouth College Professor of Political Economy and Commerce Ken McMillan said, “Part of it was somebody who grew up in Monmouth, who graduated from Monmouth College who went on to be a neighbor and a good friend of the Bushs in Houston.”

“Just knowing that he came to a small town like this,” another student told Local Four News back in 2000. 

Rankin said, “The morning of commencement, they all went out to Gibson Woods Golf Course here in Monmouth and played 18 holes.”

“Something that I can’t believe is happening,” a student also said at the graduation in an interview with Local Four News. 

Rankin said, “There were four Secret Service agents dressed in academic robes. They had their earpieces and sunglasses.”

“He was the real deal,” said McMillan. 

Rankin said, “[Students] Kind of in awe but then when they talked to him and shook his hand, he just seemed kind of a grandfatherly like figure.”

Barbara Bush said in an interview describing her husband, “Smartest, most decent, most caring person I know.”

Rankin said, “Especially Mrs. Bush seemed to resonate with some of the women students. They just thought it was just great and she sat in the audience, and she took pictures with a camera. So, they’re just ordinary people.”

Bush said during his address, “To take our country to new heights of achievement.” 

Bush coming to campus that day wasn’t the first or second time for McMillan to meet the former president.

In 1982 and 1984, McMillan ran for the Illinois 17th Congressional District. Both campaigns, Bush came to stump for him in the area.

While he told Local Four News it was great to have the then vice-president stump for him, it’s the hour-long one-on-one conversation he got to have with Bush in 1982. 

“We had a great discussion. He understood the race. He was totally unpretentious. It was not about him. It was about the country. It was about the race. He was very interested in my background,” said McMillan.

During the second visit in 1984, Barbara Bush also came with her husband, and McMillan recalls the couple talking back and forth and the frankness of her conversation. 

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