As he suggests interest in a possible 2016 presidential campaign, Jeb Bush gave the commencement address at the University of South Carolina this afternoon and decided to take his mother’s advice, getting some laughs from the audience of graduates and families.
“As I was preparing my remarks I asked the chief adviser of all important things in the Bush family, Barbara Bush, what I should speak about and she thought about it briefly and said, ‘Jeb, speak about ten minutes and shut up,’” Bush said.
Bush, who is the focus of buzz and speculation about a potential 2016 run for the White House, didn’t mention his political future, but gave graduates three pieces of advice.
“Dream big, don’t be afraid of change and find joy everywhere you can,” Bush told the attendees.
He cautioned the possibly nervous graduates that once they leave school “every day is an exam, every day you will get graded.”
Bush’s speech in South Carolina, the first state in the South to vote in the country’s primary process, comes just a day after he told ABC's Miami affiliate WPLG he would not only release an e-book, but also 250,000 of his emails from his time in office. It's the clearest sign yet he is moving towards a possible run, a decision he said in the interview he would make “in short order.” He noted in the interview he “would be a good president.” Today was Bush’s second visit to the important early voting state in three months.
The email release is also being seen as a move towards transparency and one that his potential rivals might be pushed to match.
The former Florida governor made no other stops in the state, including no political events, besides meeting with Gov. Nikki Haley, according to a Bush aide. The staffer said Haley and Bush know each other well and his education foundation has supported Haley’s work on education reform in South Carolina.
Bush’s work on education would likely be a focus of any presidential campaign, but his support for Common Core initiatives have angered more conservative members of the Republican Party, a group that tends to have outsize influence in some state primaries, including South Carolina's.
Bush told the graduates in Columbia, S.C., that his three pieces of advice are ones he learned “along life’s journey” and they “may relieve some of that anxiety and worry if you have it,” adding they are lessons “you can apply in any situation whether you decide to run a statehouse, a classroom, or a lemonade stand.”
He noted after his first lesson “dream big” that children often “model their lives on their parents.” But, he said, “I can tell you from personal experience, if your parents worked in politics, well you know the rest,” he said to laughs, before urging the crowd to break out of that pattern. “You don’t need to follow the pattern, you can do what you want to do. In fact, life is a lot better if you find your own reasons to do your own things.”
He urged the graduates not to be afraid of change and experimentation and “even fail because it’s part of life, it will definitely be part of yours.”
And in rounding out his important three, he mentioned his 90-year-old father, former President George H.W. Bush, as someone who consistently has fun, even when facing adversity.
“No matter how many challenges you face, no matter how old you get, remember to have fun and laugh,” Bush said. “Be like my dad who turned 90 years old this year. Here is a guy who lived a full and active life," noting his father gets joy in everything from "wearing funny and colorful socks or for some strange reason jumping out of perfectly good airplanes even at the age of 90.”
Bush said it’s for these reasons his father is his “favorite person in the world, of all time.”
“Life isn’t always about the happy moments, everyone faces adversity eventually,” he said. “But those things we can’t control, we can control how we react. If you are able to find joy in life wherever you can I can promise you this joy will find you.”
In exchange for his advice he asked the graduates to “give back to your communities," urging them to be mentors or otherwise contribute to those who need it most.
The university gave Bush an honorary doctoral degree of public service at the ceremony to which he quipped about his wife, “I can’t wait to get home and tell Columba I’m a doctor now, this is huge.”