Jon Huntsman urged thousands of USC graduates to “keep America great” by striving for innovation and becoming the leaders of tomorrow in a Saturday morning commencement address inside the Colonial Life Arena.
The speech didn't directly reveal any 2012 presidential ambitions, which are widely expected and have been hinted at by Huntsman himself. The former Utah governor recently resigned his post as ambassador to China, leaving many to think he’s fueling up for a run at the White House. His status as a potential presidential candidate explained the dozens of national media outlets inside the arena, including The New York Times and The Washington Post.
Huntsman, formerly the Republican governor of Utah and most recently President Obama’s ambassador to China, barely referenced politics in his 15-minute address.
He instead chose to tell stories from his days as an amateur rock-and-roll musician, remind graduates that America still is emulated by the world and urge the group to embrace the risk of failure in the pursuit of serving others. Time and time again, he praised the values of America and its core tenets of democracy and freedom.
“The real test of a nation is not how well it does when times are good, but how well it does when times are tough,” Huntsman said. “The way I saw it from overseas, America’s passions remain as strong today as ever. Hold on to that sense of optimism. Hold on to that belief in your future.”
He reminded students to hold true to themselves, find new avenues for creativity and look for someone to love.
“Love can transcend race, geography, religion and class. Some people need friends. Others need hope,” Huntsman said. “You’ll find some that just need love. Reach out your hand and give them your heart.”
He also asked graduates to give back to America and “serve her if asked.” He recounted the story of an elderly Chinese activist who has been frequently arrested, tortured and interrogated for her beliefs inside the Communist country.
Before leaving as ambassador to the country, Huntsman visited her small apartment to see her legs—but not her spirit—broken.
“Never forget how lucky you are to be sitting in America today,” Huntsman said.
He ended the speech by offering the Mandarin Chinese equivalent of “Go, Fight, Win!” before telling the students exactly what he was saying in English.
You can guess how the crowd responded.
USC also honored Southern Baptist Convention President G. Bryant Wright with an honorary degree during Saturday morning’s ceremony. The decision to give Wright a degree was criticized by some students on campus due to the leader’s conservative beliefs on gay marriage and gay rights.