Days before he is expected to decide whether to run for president, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush gave a breezy, campaign-like speech to University of South Carolina graduates on Monday.
Bush, a Republican, spoke to more than 2,700 graduates and nearly 12,000 family and friends at the flagship university of the state with the South’s first presidential primary.
The potential third member of the Bush family in the White House drew cheers while dropping references to Columbia college landmarks in his chatty remarks.
“Congratulations, you’ve done the work, you maintained your focus even when things got a little crazy in Five Points,” Bush said at Colonial Life Arena.
To parents, he said: “Maybe you had your doubts that they would reach this day; you saw them at tailgate on Saturdays. You know what I’m talking about.”
Then he offered the commencement-staple advice to graduates about remaining true to their dreams, giving back to the community and having fun – like his 90-year-old father, who went for a skydive this summer.
In talking about embracing change, Bush mentioned Lake City financier Darla Moore, who went from growing up on a farm to becoming the school’s biggest benefactor.
“That anxiety (you feel) can be positive,” said Bush, who received an honorary degree in public service from the university. “When you’re thrown into new situations, you don’t just challenge yourself, you see what other people might not see.”
All the good advice aside, Bush’s speech was another reminder about South Carolina’s importance in early presidential politics.
He is the second White House hopeful to speak to USC graduates this year. Vice President Joe Biden, polling second and third among Democrats, spoke at the May commencement.
Before speaking at USC Monday, Bush visited Gov. Nikki Haley at the Governor’s Mansion. Republican candidates will vie for Haley’s endorsement in a wide-open 2016 field. Bush headlined two fundraisers in Jacksonville, Fla., and Columbia for Haley’s re-election bid.
Haley backed former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in 2012, though former House Speaker Newt Gingrich won the S.C. GOP primary, ending the state’s three-decade streak of picking the party’s eventual nominee.
Bush is covering familiar ground for the family. His father, George H.W. Bush, spoke at a USC commencement when he was president in 1990. His brother, George W. Bush, spoke to graduates as president in 2003.
The speech Monday contained little about policy except a brief mention about the woman living in a poor area who was able to attend a private school with help of a Florida school choice program.
Bush said he asked his mother, former first lady Barbara Bush, about what he should speak about.
“She thought about it briefly and said, ‘Jeb, speak about 10 minutes and then sit down and shut up,’ ” Bush said, drawing a round of applause.
He was so close, going 11 seconds too long.