President George W. Bush encouraged graduates of Calvin College to embrace the school's heritage of service and work as "agents of renewal," during his May 21 commencement address in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

"As Americans … we share a great responsibility to serve and love others," Bush told the 900 graduates, "a responsibility that goes back to the greatest commandment."

"This isn't a Democratic idea," Bush said, pausing for effect. "This isn't a Republican idea. This is an American idea."

His bid for bipartisanship seemed to respond to the controversy that stirred prior to Bush's arrival at the Christian Reformed school. About one-third of Calvin's more than 300 faculty signed an open letter to Bush that appeared in that morning's Grand Rapids Press, and which criticized his administration for launching an "unjust" war, burdening the poor, and harming creation. Another letter, published one day earlier in the Press and endorsed by more than 800 students, faculty, alumni, and friends of the school, urged Bush to "repudiate the false claims of supporters who say that those who oppose your policies are the enemies of religion."

The scene during commencement, however, defied portrayals of a divided campus. Following the student procession, when an assistant ornamented the podium with the presidential seal, the crowd of nearly 5,000 cheered loudly. Bush received hearty ovations before and following his speech, with a few students and faculty remaining seated in protest.

Many dissenting professors did pin "God is not a Democrat or a Republican" buttons to their academic gowns, while dozens of students adorned their mortarboards with like stickers. But even the button design, borrowed from a controversial election-season ad in ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.