Romney Emphasizes Importance of Marriage in Commencement Address

By Kevin Mooney | July 7, 2008 | 8:32pm EDT

Virginia Beach ( - Americans who embrace self-sacrifice over self-absorption in the form of committed marriages help to set America apart from Europe, former Massachusetts governor turned Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said Saturday during a commencement address at Regent University in Virginia Beach.

Romney challenged graduates to exchange a life of comfort and security for one that elevates the interests of others above their own, in sharp contrast to the anti-marriage mindset that holds sway among a growing number of young people in Europe and even in parts of America.

Romney's speech resonated with students at the Christian university, almost all of whom are drawn to the campus with a "sense of calling and a desire to be leaders who serve," said Regent Law School Dean Jeffrey Brauch.

Romney, a Mormon, has been courting the Christian conservative vote, which is highly prized among those vying for the Republican presidential nomination.

Although many Christians reject the teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Romney has made it a point to emphasize the shared values between himself and Christians from different denominations.

Marriage is suffering in contemporary culture, Romney said in his speech, because an alarming number of individuals have elected to pursue their life interests "without the encumbrance of having to worry about someone else's needs."

As a young boy vacationing with family on Lake Huron in Ontario, Canada, Romney recalled how terrified he was to venture past a sandbar for the first time, leaving behind shallow waters for deeper waters. Over time, he found it was more rewarding and enriching to exchange comfort zones for more tumultuous waterways, he said.

"Almost every dimension of your life could be held in the shallows or it can be taken to the deeper waters," he said. "Your spouse, your career, your involvement in the community, your politics, your faith, each could be narrowly focused on your own personal convenience and comfort, or instead draw you out into concern for others, and into service, sacrifice and selflessness."

Romney called on graduates to resist the temptation to "stay near shore where there are no big breakers" and where it is more difficult to "make waves." Instead, he said, graduates should look to the example of America's founding fathers many of whom "crossed the broadest waters and dreamed the grandest dreams."

Matthew Clark, president and founder of the Regent Republicans, remarked on the non-political nature of the speech and said Romney's emphasis on family values was very much in sync with the Christian worldview of Regent graduates.

"The idea of taking a chance in life and serving others is central to the Regent mission," he said.

This sentiment was shared by others in the Regent community, including Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ). "We are in the deep waters at Regent University," he said. "This was the kind of speech that will leave graduates with a sense of purpose and cause for reflection. His comments about marriage were especially strong."

Kirsten Thomas, who graduated with an master's degree in journalism, said Romney's address put into perspective the special place Christian institutions occupy at time when there is little incentive in the broader society to "push out into new frontiers."

The special challenges of the 21st century call out for "great Americans" who wish to assume an active role in confronting terrorism at home and overseas. While the Virginia-Tech shootings were "shocking" on one level, Romney said, human evil has been present from the beginning. He invoked the biblical story of Cain and Abel as an example.

The point was not lost on Dave Tomyn, who graduated with degrees in business and government. Future leaders who have a biblical understanding of evil are better equipped to serve as a counter-balance to cultural pathologies, he argued.

"To be a leader you need to be comfortable with being uncomfortable," Tomyn said.

Charles Dunn of the School of Government told Cybercast News Service he thought Romney succeeded in "building a bridge" to the evangelical community at Regent by focusing on marriage.

"Fast forward your life and come to the end of it, and if you've just lived for yourself, you have nothing to look back on," he said. "But if you live for other people you leave a legacy."

Dunn also mentioned Romney's credentials as a family man, married for over 30 years to the same woman and the father of several children, each of them married as well.

"You cross the deep waters by marrying and raising good children," Romney said. "There is no work more important to America than the work that is done within the four walls of the American home."

Romney further emphasized the importance of family and the presence of children by quoting from Psalm 127. "The fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one's youth. How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them."

Jeffry Morrison, professor of government, was impressed with the content of Romney's speech and with the biblical references in particular.

"Gov. Romney's non-political commencement address put his speaking skills to good advantage. He sounded themes -- faith, freedom, family -- that conservatives have long thought necessary supports of republican government. His quotation of the Psalms was surely appreciated, and the speech probably made significant inroads into the large, and largely evangelical, audience."

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