Donald Trump thanked conservative Christians for their votes, and promised to protect their values in his first commencement address as president, at evangelical stronghold Liberty University.
Back in D.C., the political storm from Trump's unexpected firing of FBI Director James Comey still raged on after Trump's own account of the firing clashed with the explanation given by his own aides and White House officials. At another, he told students and parents at the conservative religious school that "nothing is easier or more pathetic than being a critic".
The president said "the future belongs to the dreamers, not to the critics".
On Saturday, Trump spoke of faith often as he urged the Liberty University class of 2017 to leave their imprint on the world and to go against the grain.
"Following your convictions means you must be willing to face criticism from those who lack the same courage", he added.
Liberty's president, Jerry Falwell, Jr., has long supported Trump, a Presbyterian who has married three times, built casinos, and was caught on tape bragging about groping women.
Trump's address was short on scripture but cast the president as a defender of the Christian faith - a mantle he assumed throughout the campaign. Trump said. "What imprint will you leave in the sands of history?"
University spokesman Paul Browne declined to say whether Trump had been invited to the May 21 ceremony, saying it was against school policy to reveal who had turned down offers.More news: Oil prices up 2% after deal to extend supply cut
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But they had a mixed response to an executive order on religious liberty Trump signed last week directing the IRS to ease up on enforcing a rarely enforced limit on partisan political activity by churches.
"But here we are celebrating together on this very joyous occasion", Trump said to the crowd.
The visit was Trump's third to Liberty University. "Embrace the label. Because it's the outsiders that change the world, and who make a real lasting difference", he counseled.
Liberty's president and an early Trump supporter, helped him win an overwhelming 80 percent of the white evangelical vote in the 2016 election.
"America is a nation of true believers", Trump proclaimed, as quoted by the Washington Times - implying that he will not allow the government under his watch to deny Americans the right to express their faith ... whether at school, in the public square or at work. He said to the graduates, look, here you are standing in cap and gown.
It was the only the second time a sitting USA president had spoken at the school's commencement, said Liberty President Jerry Falwell Jr. before Trump gave his address. "When the founders wrote the Declaration of Independence, they invoked our creator four times, because in America we don't worship government; we worship God", the President pointed out. I know that each of you will be a warrior for the truth ...
On "America's Newsroom" today, Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council and a Liberty graduate, said Trump wasn't just addressing the graduates and their families, but all evangelicals across the country. George H.W. Bush was the first.