May 15, 2016

SOUTH BEND, IN — Former U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) today addressed the commencement ceremony of the University of Notre Dame and gave brief remarks to graduates in accepting the university’s Laetare Medal, awarded jointly this year to Boehner and Vice President Joe Biden.  Speaker Boehner’s remarks (as prepared) are below:

Father Jenkins, Vice President Biden, graduates…I’m truly honored and privileged to be standing here today – just a regular guy who used to have a big job. 

It’s been six months now since I left public service. That’s given me some time to reflect. 

And something occurred to me a few months ago about the nature of the difficult task we call governing:

Governing is the art of the possible.

Politicians are constantly being pushed to promise the impossible. And this being a presidential election year, you’ve been hearing a lot of impossible promises.

But governing isn’t about doing the impossible. Governing, at its essence, is the art of the possible. 

Governing requires us to look for common ground where it can be found – without compromising on our principles. 

As Speaker, I always drew a distinction between “compromise” and “common ground,” because I truly believe they are two different things.

My greatest worry about our system is that we will lose the ability to distinguish between the two. 

The fact of the matter is, you can find common ground with the other side without compromising on your principles and core beliefs.

Our democracy, in fact, requires it from time to time.

And our system of government would break down completely if not for people on both sides of the fence who understand that distinction.

Ladies and gentlemen, Vice President Joe Biden is one of those people. 

Joe and I disagreed on many things during my time in office. Make no mistake about it. 

But even as we disagreed, we always understood the need to keep looking for the things we could agree on.

Mr. Vice President, it’s an honor to share a stage with you again, my friend.

It was almost eight months ago, Joe, that you and I were seated together in the House chamber behind His Holiness, Pope Francis, for the first address ever by a Pope to a Joint Meeting of the United States Congress. 

I tried for more than 20 years to bring a Pope to the U.S. Capitol.

They said it couldn’t be done; he’s not just a head of state, but the head of a Church.  It’s too controversial.

My view was that America could handle it.  And things worked out pretty well. 

As many know, that day also turned out to be the way I closed the book on my speakership and a nearly 25-year run in the U.S. House.

I had already decided I was leaving, but as I recognized only in retrospect, the Holy Spirit, working through Pope Francis, gave me the grace, strength and serenity to proceed with the plan. 

I saw an opportunity to announce my departure in a manner that honored my roots, my upbringing, and my Faith. 

If that isn’t going out on your own terms, I don’t know what is.

And in the 7-8 months since then, I’ve realized what a blessing it was personally, to be able to leave with the peace of mind and confidence that I was doing the Lord’s will. 

“Laetare” means “rejoice.”  There’s really no better word for it.  That’s exactly what I’ve been doing ever since I left the House. . .rejoicing! 

This day really isn’t about me, or Joe.  It’s about the students who today take their final steps as students of this university, and their first steps on the journey that will be the rest of their lives. 

This your day.  We celebrate you, and the remarkable things you’ve achieved, and the awesome things you have the potential to achieve in the future. 

As you begin this journey, recognize that there’s a difference between deciding who you want to be versus what you want to do. 

Career decisions are things you can only grapple with over time.   Character decisions are something you can make right now. 

It’s impossible for you to know what opportunities may present themselves as you travel the roads of your life. 

I certainly didn’t see serving in Congress or becoming Speaker of the House coming when I was working in my dad’s bar, or sweeping up floors as a janitor while I was working to pay my way through college.

But when I walked out of the U.S. Capitol for the last time as speaker, on October 30, 2015, I walked out as pretty much the same guy who walked in the door 25 years earlier.  For better or for worse!

You don’t have to decide what you want to do, but it’s never too early to commit yourself to what you truly believe.

 In fact, it’s far more important to figure out who you want to be.  You can’t possibly predict everything that lies ahead on the journey of life but you can decide now what kind of person you’re going to be and remain.  

I know what I believe: it doesn’t cost anything to be nice. It doesn’t do any good to carry grudges.  It’s always better to be honest with people. 

I knew these things in my own heart long before I embarked on the journey of public service.

Your identity is forged not by what you choose to do, but by how you choose to live your life.

The University of Notre Dame, has witnessed and weathered many changes.

Its very name honors the Blessed Mother.

Its motto is Vita Dulcedo Spes = life, sweetness, hope.  As in “Mary, our life, our sweetness, our hope,” from the Salve Regina prayer offered in the Rosary.

At its very founding, a choice was made to devote this institution to Our Lady.  

This school would go on to become one of the most decorated and respected institutions of higher learning our country.  But the core of its unique, special identity was forged even before then.

I would urge that you cherish this identity, and make absolutely no apologies for bringing it to bear in our world as a force for hope, freedom, and life

The University of Notre Dame has never been “just a school.” There are a thousand reasons for this, but they all trace back ultimately to the foundation upon which it was built.

It’s who you are, versus what you do.

Whether we’re talking about a person or an institution, staying true to yourself and what you set out to be is vital.  At the end of the day, it’s what matters most. 

It’s possible to find common ground without compromising on your core beliefs.

What matters most is that we know who we are, and stick to it, no matter where the roads of our life’s journey might take us.

Thank you, graduates, for the privilege of joining you on this day.

I know the Vice President joins me in saying: these medals may dangle from our necks, but this day – this glorious day – is yours.

Thank you, and God Bless You all.