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VIDEO: Sen. Lankford’s Oklahoma State Commencement Speech

WASHINGTON, DC — On Saturday, May 9, 2015, Senator James Lankford (R-OK) deliverred a commencement address for Oklahoma State University. The transcrpt of the address is below.

  • To watch the university video of the address, click here: http://www.ostate.tv/?play=E5914DC6-66B5-5B82-A5D8-48FB03945A81
  • To watch the C-SPAN video of the address, click here: http://www.c-span.org/video/?325857-1/senator-james-lankford-rok-commencement-address-oklahoma-state-university
  • To read the university summary of the commencment, click here: https://news.okstate.edu/articles/oklahoma-state-university-holds-commencement-finishes-year-record-number-graduates


Well good morning to you. It’s my honor to get a chance to be here, and yes for Cindy and I this is our anniversary. This is number 23. Isn’t this romantic? I took her to a commencement for our anniversary.  A little later tonight we’ll be able to have a nice romantic dinner, cuddle around the T.V. and watch weather like everyone else, so welcome to Oklahoma on that.

Graduates congratulations to you. It’s a very big day for you and your family. So I hope you enjoy and you just  take this in, and the moments and your able to remember well what happens here.

There are a couple moments in your life that you will get free advice from random strangers. This is one of them. If anyone finds out you’re graduating, immediately a total stranger will go, “Great! I have something to tell you.” This will happen again when you get married. It’ll happen again when you get pregnant. Okay, so, at that point you just smile, nod. You want to say, “Do I know you?” But you don’t. Just take it, filter out what’s helpful and junk what’s not, because in all likelihood twenty years from now you will do it to some graduate. Someone you’ll meet in the grocery store, you’ll find out they’re about to graduate, and you’ll just randomly in the produce isle start telling them advice about life. Enjoy it. It’s the nice thing about being neighbors together. 

I’m going to throw a couple things to you today as well that is just some free advice that you can filter it as you choose to, but I want to be able to just put a few things together to say a few things I think are significant for you to be able to consider and not lose track of.

Number one is this – get out of debt. Now, I know the irony of someone currently serving in the United States Senate talking about us getting out of debt. I get that. But I’m going to tell you, this is one of those things that you’ll want to get off your back as quickly as you can. If you have any debt, do whatever you can to start knocking that out as fast as you can. I know you want to get a real car, you want to get real furniture, okay? All those things in the days ahead as you start to land a job and a mortgage, and those wonderful responsibilities. Knock out the debt as fast as you can. You will be grateful to be able to have that off of your back and be able to focus on other things in life.

Second thing is this – reconnect with your faith. I’m amazed at the number of students that I interact with that had a practicing faith that up until they got midway through college and then just somehow drifted. Now, I understand this is the United States of America. Not everyone has to have a faith, but for those that choose to have faith, I encourage them to actually live the faith that they have, and be able to walk in that. It will always be meaningful to you in your life. If you’ve grown cold and distant in your faith, reengage in your faith. There are a lot of terrifying moments that are both terrifying and exciting in your life, including today, because for some of you as you graduate today, you suddenly realize, “Oh, there’s adulthood coming Monday.” For some of you, you have successfully postponed that by getting a Master’s degree soon, but that terrifying moment of realizing, “I’m about to take the next step and I do not know what’s there.” You should have that moment also be a moment where you walk in your faith. 

How many of you have been to the United State Capitol before? Let me see your hands. That’s great. When you get to the United States Capitol, there’s a series of painting that are down in the Rotunda – under the big cast iron dome that is our United States Capitol, which looks like it currently has an iron maiden around it for construction that’s happening on the dome. The dome itself, is our second dome. The first dome that was there was wood and copper. That rotunda and the paintings that are in that rotunda actually predate the dome that are above it. The dome was built during the Civil War, but the paintings that are underneath it were built — the last of those were put in about the 1840’s. My favorite of those is called the “Embarkation of the Pilgrims.” The paintings that are there are to depict the beginnings of America. One of them done by Robert Weir in 1843 depicts the moment America began, and it’s a painting of a group of individuals on the deck of a ship huddled around an open Bible, praying, as their ship is leaving from Europe. And that moment that was captured is both this terrifying moment for them, of not knowing where they are going, but this reassuring reconnection to there is something very important to us. We don’t know where we are going, but we know God will be with us when we get there. I would encourage you to reconnect with your faith. 

Third, I would encourage you to heal family hurts. You’re going to love this. They get more personal as they go, don’t you notice? Heal family hurts. In the days ahead your relationship with your family will be more important to you than what your diploma is to you today, and that diploma is extremely important. But I have met many students that as they went through high school, and went through college got more and more disconnected with their family. There was a broken relationship there and they thought, “You know what, I’m leaving. I’m heading out. It doesn’t matter anyways because I’m moving out. So I’ll just leave that broken relationship behind. What does it matter now? It’s too much work to fix that family hurt.” 

I will tell you for the rest of your life every birthday, every Thanksgiving, every Christmas, every Mother’s Day, every Father’s Day, you will regret that decision. 
My mom was a librarian. Now, I don’t know how smart your parents were, but my mom was a librarian, okay? A librarian knows everything, and what she doesn’t know, she knows where to find it. So I grew up with my mom being the smartest woman on the planet, but somewhere around ninth grade, she bumped into a wall, or took a fall, or something happened, because she just started deteriorating, and it just got worse, and worse and worse as I went through high school. But about my sophomore year of college, she started gaining from my academic wisdom, and about my sophomore year of college on she started getting smarter again. She’s back to genius level. Now I say that to you to say, there is this path of independence that all of us go through. That’s good. We have God’s creation to say we’re not always living in your parent’s basement. Amen? Okay? Probably a bigger amen from up here, okay?

When there’s a broken relationship, I don’t care where it came from and how it started, but it ends when you actually reconnect. When you look at each other in the eye and to say, “Can we start over again?” Heal the broken wounds. Some of those can start today. You’ll have time in the storm shelter later to be able to visit on these things, but you can start some of that conversations today. Heal those broken wounds. 
Many people that I talk to about a lot of things and about what’s going on in DC. I spend a lot of time talking about what I call the three D’s – debt, defense, and federal directives. Those are big issues that we deal with on a common basis in Washington DC, but broken families can not be fixed by Washington DC. The biggest issues we face as a nation are families that are struggling to stay connected to each other, and committed to each other. That is the decision that you will make in the days ahead, and I would encourage us to turn the nation around by turning our families around.
Number four, and I only have fourteen of these, so we’re almost there. No, I’m kidding. I have two more, and they’re quick. 

Number four is serve. There will be a lot of things that you will do to make a lot of money. This president wants you to be able to get out of here, land a great job, represent the University well, make a lot of money, and be a good donor back to the University, okay? But you know as well as I do at the end of life the joy you have will not be how much you made, it will be who you served. Keep that in perspective. You will do well. It’s the nature of a free market economy. As you take care of your family, you also take care of a nation, and your neighbors. Go take care of your family. Go provide for them well, but remember to continue to serve. 

And last is this, don’t forget your Oklahoma roots and how great this nation really is. Now, not everyone who is here is from Oklahoma. I get that. Oklahoma State has folks from all over the country, but we welcome you to continue to carry the name of Oklahoma with you, because this phenomenal state and this great university — the heritage and the tradition spreads around the country. Take it with you. Understand that we are Americans. We do things a little bit different in America. We’re passionate about things like invention. More inventions come out of the United States than any other place in the world. We invent. We find broken things and we fix them. We work until things get done. We do not quit. We are Americans. That’s what we do. We get out and work, and quite frankly, I get tired of the people that come to me and complain about where we are as a nation. I typically smile at them and say, “Why don’t you get up off the couch, and go get to work, because this nation will get turned around, not when we complain about it more, but when we engage.” 

I am fully aware we have a bunch of stuff to work on as a nation, but that happens with each of us and each of you engaging, and understanding we’re Americans. We fix things, so we get to work. 
A couple years ago I had the privilege to visit with Julia Gillard. She was the Prime Minster at that time of Australia. You’d like her. She’s a red head. Very sharp lady. She came and gave a speech to joint session of Congress, and at the end of that speech she ended by saying, “I have to tell you about it. When I was a little girl, in Australia, everyone got out of school the day the Americans landed on the moon.” Now we don’t think about that as Americans. We know Americans and many that are in the generations sitting around remember well when the Americans landed on the moon, but all of Australia got out of school that day as well. She said not many people had televisions at that point in Australia and we all found someone who had a television, all piled in their living room, and all sat there and watched the Americans land on the moon. And she said I distinctly remember thinking, “Americans can do anything,” and then she hesitated and said, “I still believe that’s true.”

It was a reminder again of who we are and how the rest of the world sees us. I was in Central America last September working on some the immigrations issues. You might have heard, there are a few immigration conversations going around now as a nation. While I was in Central America and I was meeting with some of their leaders and they were talking about some of the factors and these children that are coming to the United States, and at one point one of the leaders stopped me and said, “You don’t understand. You’re the United States of America. Everyone wants to be you.” That’s who you are. Don’t lose track of that. You have been prepared and well equipped by this University. The nation needs a new generation of leaders. You’re now it. Welcome to real life. Welcome to leadership. Congratulations on being a graduate of one of the greatest Universities in the world – Oklahoma State University. God bless ya’ll.