Remarks by the Vice President to the National Student Leadership Conference
9:52 A.M. EDT
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you so very much for that warm welcome. Thank you, Skyler, for that gracious introduction. And let’s give Skyler another round of applause for all the great work she’s done organizing this great event. (Applause.)
It’s really great to be here today at American University to address a rising generation of leaders in America. Give yourselves a round of applause. You are the future. (Applause.)
And let me say on behalf of the First Family and on behalf of my little family, welcome to Washington, D.C. It’s an honor to be with you today to really address what I know is a distinguished gathering of outstanding students from all across America and really across the wider world -- the National Student Leadership Conference, a legacy of leadership of which you are now a part. Let’s hear it for the whole organization. Shall we? (Applause.)
But before I get started this morning, I wanted to bring greetings from my friend, who is a champion -- a champion for dreaming big dreams and for this next generation, who’s fighting every single day for a boundless American future, the President of the United States of America -- I bring greetings from President Donald Trump. (Applause.)
It’s the greatest privilege of my life to serve as Vice President to a President who literally embodies American leadership. I told the President I was going to be with you when we spoke earlier today, and he just wanted me to pass along his congratulations and his encouragement to each and every one of you that are stepping forward and developing yourselves to be leaders in a broad range of areas so vital to our nation’s life.
You know, 30 years ago, our President wrote a book that holds words of wisdom for all future leaders that are gathered here today. It really is a book that’s inspired many leaders over more than three decades, and I believe it could be an inspiration to each one of you, as well.
The book is entitled “The Art of the Deal,” and it’s actually an American classic. In that famous book, President Trump said, “I like thinking big,” because “if you’re going to be thinking anyway, you might as well think big.”
And that’s exactly what our President has done throughout his life. He’s thought big. He’s achieved big, and today we have a President of the United States who’s literally lived the American Dream.
It’s remarkable to think that our President, a grandson of an immigrant to this country, the son of a self-made businessman has lived the life that he’s lived and now finds himself in the Oval Office of the United States.
It’s interesting -- I often tell people that our two family stories are somewhat similar. The President’s grandfather immigrated to this country, and my grandfather immigrated to this country from Ireland. His father was a self-made man who built a business with his own two hands. My dad built a small gasoline station business in a small town in southern Indiana. He, the man who calls himself “the Kid from Queens,” decided to build on that legacy, and he went to Manhattan Island to build the big buildings.
For my part, like so many of you, I felt a calling into public service. I followed that calling all throughout my life.
I like to say that other than a whole lot of zeroes, the President and I have a lot in common. (Laughter.)
And that's a belief in the American Dream -- because we've both lived it. We've benefitted by it. It’s not a slogan or a bumper sticker at our house. Truthfully, that Irish immigrant, Richard Michael Cawley, is why Michael Richard Pence stands before you today as the 48th Vice President of the United States. That Irishman’s brogue still rings in my heart and in my ears. And the President shares that same passion for his legacy.
We both have that passion to ensure that the American Dream is open to everyone with the courage and determination to achieve it. And I know that applies to every single one of you in this room.
We have no doubt that all of you here today are people that are going to live the American Dream. I’m confident you’ll live lives of accomplishment, lives of consequence. We know that you’ll lead your communities, your enterprises, your families, and our nation with distinction in the years ahead. So on the President’s behalf, let me congratulate all of you for being nominated and selected to be at the National Student Leadership Conference. Give yourselves one more round of applause. You're all leaders. (Applause.)
And this is a great conference. For more than 25 years, the National Student Leadership Conference has brought together the best and brightest, high school students from across the country and the wider world to experience a college education here at American University, explore your college interests and your career interests, learn the leadership skills that will benefit not just yourselves but your communities, your country, and the wider world.
It’s remarkable to think about the reach of this conference. Tens of thousands of students have participated in these events, coming from not only across America, from more than 70 countries all across the globe.
This summer alone, your peers have traveled to 11 other American universities and colleges to study some 20 fields, ranging from business and entrepreneurship, to engineering, to architecture.
And the nearly 300 of you who are gathered here this morning -- and I understand you arrived pretty early. Sorry about that. (Laughter.) All of you gathered here are devoted to public service, which makes it particularly humbling and inspiring for me to be with you today -- delving into the realms of political action, public policy, national security, intelligence, and the vital area of international diplomacy.
The National Student Leadership Conference is preparing you -- I promise you -- to excel in these areas in your college education and beyond, and I know with confidence that America and the world will be better for it. You're here to study leadership and that's a noble calling.
As the Old Book tells us, whoever aspires to be a leader, desires a noble task. And I want to tell each and every one of you, you couldn’t have picked a better time to study leadership, to study leadership at the intersection of public policy and diplomacy and national security. At this very moment in this country, we’re witnessing history in the making. Thanks to the leadership of President Trump, we’re in the midst of a great national renewal. We’re seeing a return of security and prosperity to our nation and to our people.
In a word, I believe we’re living through the restoration of America in its rightful role as leader of the free world. At this very moment, we’re seeing the bold leadership of an American President on the world stage.
A little bit later today, at the invitation of President Macron, the President will return to Europe once again -- second time in two weeks. He’ll head to France to mark the 100th anniversary of the entry of American troops onto French soil during World War One.
And just last week, as many of you witnessed, our President made a historic trip to Europe. Standing in Krasinski Square in Warsaw, Poland, the President spoke to the people of Poland, and really, to all people around the world who cherish freedom. As the President said, the Western world is united in our dedication to the values of individual freedom and sovereignty, and the President called on our allies all across the West to, in his words, “a renewed commitment of will” to, again in his words, to confront forces that threaten over time to undermine our values, erase the bonds of culture, faith, and tradition that make us who we are.
I would say, ladies and gentleman, to all of you gathered here today: Those words in Poland last week, that’s what American leadership looks like.
Serving with him every day, I know President Trump will continue to provide that leadership at home and abroad. This President has no higher priority than the security and safety of the American people and our prosperity.
On the security front, our President has taken decisive action to protect our nation in this time of widening challenges and unknowable threats. As the President actually said this morning, because of the efforts of our forces in the Middle East -- in Iraq and in Syria -- ISIS is on the run, will soon be wiped out in Syria and Iraq. And here at home, security is on the increase. I’m pleased to report that illegal border crossings are already down by more than 75 percent at our southern border, and the dangerous MS-13 gangs are being removed from our streets and our cities for the betterment and security of our families.
Our President has been enforcing our laws, securing our borders. And in the midst of that, he’s been rebuilding our military, restoring the arsenal of democracy. And he’s reaffirmed America’s commitment to our time-honored alliances -- last week and before in his travels to Europe -- renewing our commitment to our critical transatlantic alliance and renewing our commitment to nations across the Asian Pacific.
Our President though, however, knows that security begins -- or that security really is the foundation of our prosperity, and that’s why for America, for our allies, and across the wider world and home, we are going to continue to advance the kind of policies that will promote prosperity and a stronger and more prosperous America.
Since the first day of this administration, our President and our entire team have been working to get our economy moving again and put America back to work. And I’m pleased to report to all of you that will be entering the job market, really before you know it, that because of the President’s vision, America is once again growing as it hasn’t for quite a while.
Optimism is reflected from record-setting gains in the stock market, to investments, to just last month alone, new jobs created at a level far outpacing what was expected. America’s economy is coming back, and that’s going to give us the opportunity to meet our obligations and to achieve our aspirations.
An America where entrepreneurship thrives and innovation flourishes is the America that this President believes in and is fighting to advance. President Trump’s vision is an America where anyone, no matter who they are, no matter where they come from, regardless of race or creed or color or background, can climb the ladder of prosperity. In a word: Each one of you have chosen a very good time to be beginning your careers and graduating from high school in just a few short years.
Our President has laid out a bold vision for greater security and greater prosperity, and that’s the America you’re going to be stepping in and rising as leaders. The President has been working on the prosperity front to lower taxes on working families and American businesses, to eliminate burdensome regulations, rebuilding infrastructure, unleashing our nation’s energy resources, ensuring the trade deals are free and fair, and the President is going to keep his promise to repeal the failed policies known as Obamacare and give your generation a healthcare system based on individual freedom, consumer choice, and state-based reform.
Thanks to President Trump’s leadership, looking out across this room, I truly believe and am absolutely confident that America’s future is brighter than ever before. And this matters greatly to all of you gathered here because you are the future leaders who will guide our nation to even greater heights. You’re here at the National Student Leadership Conference because you feel the call to public service, which I can relate to, because I felt it from very early in my life.
Some of you may pursue a career in Foreign Service or an administrative agency. Some of you may enter into the intelligence community, some of you may even run for office yourself -- in your hometown, your home state, or even run for office here in our Nation’s Capital. But while your paths may all be different, the same call of leadership falls on each of your shoulders.
And so as I close this morning, let me share a few thoughts about leadership because the truth is, I believe leadership is both a gift and a skill. And each one of you are probably in this room because your peers around you -- your teachers, your friends, your families -- have all noticed that you have the gift of leadership, and they want to see you develop that.
But I often liken leadership to natural athletic ability, of which I have very little, to be honest. But natural athletic ability, what separates the person that is able to play as a professional athlete, and the person who just plays in a good pick-up game with a lot of talent, is perseverance and determination; meaning I really believe each one of us are born with a certain amount of gifts and abilities. But we're obligated then, we have a responsibility then to develop those gifts and abilities, and I think leadership is just that kind of a gift.
Because the truth is, I've spent the better part of my life trying to understand the nature of leadership. It's an ongoing study from me, and I learn more about it every day. I've worked hard to learn what I believe are the principles of good leadership and to put them into practice. And so I thought I might share a few words about leadership before I leave you this morning.
First off, remember this, if you're taking notes: People follow people they respect. So first and foremost, if you aspire to be a leader, you must aspire to be men and women of character.
Secondly, I believe that that character can best be defined for leaders in servant leadership, with the qualities of humility and respect for authority and self-control. And when it comes to public service in particular, I would encourage you to reflect deeply on the principles of servant leadership. I urge you to be servant leaders, driven by a calling to support and to serve others -- not by selfish ambition -- as the animating force of your career.
You know, the leader I most try and emulate each and every day said, nearly 2,000 years ago, that he came not to be served but to serve. And I believe that's the very essence of servant leadership. And there are three qualities in particular that I encourage you to reflect on.
The first is humility. It's often in too scarce a supply in our society today. I mean, the ability to consider others as more important than yourself. For a leader, there's nothing inconsistent about humility and authority. I mean, the truth of the matter is that some of the most compelling leaders I've ever known in my life are people that are focused on others more than themselves, are considerate to others. I truly believe that to reflect humility is to approach leadership every day as a learner and as a listener.
You know, true leaders listen first and then they decide. I remember I was at a meeting during the transition, and we brought in a group of virtually all of the high-tech entrepreneurs and executives in America to meet with our new President -- then President-elect Donald Trump. And for the better part of two hours, I witnessed as the President asked one question after another, and then he listened intently to how we could continue to grow jobs in the high-tech sector in America.
And one of the most prominent members of that community came up to me afterwards and said to me how amazed they were at the way the President had spent two hours asking questions and listening to answers. And they asked me if he was like that all the time, and I said, every day. The truth is, our President, he leads by asking questions and he listens. And I believe that reflects the kind of humility that will enhance your ability to be a leader.
The second quality of leadership, I believe, in our society today that is most in need is orientation to authority. Recognize and respect those who have been placed above you. Honor them. Learn from them. Follow their example. Give them the honor that they are due. Never that they ask for it, but there's nothing more meaningful when you enter an organization in the years ahead, and you take a time to demonstrate respect for those who have been placed in authority over you; to listen to them and to defer to them, even while you offer them the broadest range of your counsel and your talents.
And lastly, I encourage you -- as you develop these inner qualities, the qualities of being leaders that people respect and will follow, I encourage you to embrace self-control in your life. You know, as the Old Book says, like a city whose walls are broken down is the person who lacks self-control. I mean, whether it's in our physical lives, whether it's in our organization each and every day, to practice discipline and to practice self-control is to become the kind of woman and man that people will respect and people will follow.
If you want to make a difference in this complicated world, be different by leading an orderly life, by being an example of humility and orientation, and have a servant's heart with all of those around you. You know, I really do believe if you model these three qualities in increasing measure, your service will be of distinction no matter where your life may lead.
And finally, one word of admonition. And that is, if you aspire to lead, you'll need a healthy dose of courage because leadership brings honor and opposition. As President Trump said just a few months ago, nothing worth doing ever came easy. Following your convictions means you must be willing to face criticism from those who lack the same courage to do what is right, and no truer words are spoken.
Anyone who dreams big will encounter those who think small, all right? Anyone who dares to step forward will find those who would rather stay put. And anyone who thinks they can will always hear from those who are sure they can't.
So I just say to you, cheerfully -- expect criticism. Listen to it. Have the humility to learn from it. And then push through it. That's the essence of leadership.
You know, you're here today, all of you, because you've already been recognized as emerging leaders in this rising generation. You're the future of America and the future of the countries from which many of you in this room come. And I just want you to know we're counting on you. We're counting on all of you in the days ahead.
So I’m here to say thank you -- to congratulate you -- but also to urge you to keep learning about leadership. Keep developing in the qualities of men and women who will have the respect and the character and the ability to lead wherever that leadership calls you. Keep persevering and lead fearlessly.
And one last thing as you prepare to lead, I urge you to have faith. Have faith in your calling, in your abilities, and in the confidence that has been placed in you by those who love you and have mentored you.
To come to an event like this, I expect you had to be willing to step forward and tell people what you really wanted to do with your life. Sometimes when I'm out traveling around the country, I'll meet one of these well-dressed, well-appointed young men and women who will walk up to me and they'll nervously stick their hand out and introduce themselves. And I say, what do you want to do with your life? And they say, well -- they look down, shuffle their feet, and they say, well, I’d like to run for public office. And I always shake their hand and I say, well, you've just passed the first test.
Because you got to be willing to say it. You got to be willing to express your dreams and get ready for the people that are going to slap you on the shoulder and say, you know what, I think you'd be great at that, and also get ready for a few people that will roll their eyes and say, you couldn’t possibly do that.
Somebody that says, well, I want to be in the intelligence service, I want to serve around the world in the Foreign Service, I want to serve in a large agency in government, or I want to hold office in my hometown and home state or here in our Nation's Capital. Just be willing to say it, speak it out. And believe in yourself, have faith in yourself.
I don’t know where the dream of this calling of service started for you, but it really started for me back on 31st Street in Everroad Park West in Columbus, Indiana. We lived in a little tiny house. My brother and I literally slept in the same bed till he was about two years old. My late father used to say -- when we were growing up, he didn’t have two nickels to rub together, but they somehow made it do. We had a cornfield in the back yard.
But I somehow got on that little street, in that little small town, a calling for public service. The heroes of my youth were President John F. Kennedy and the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I actually started in politics in the other political party because those were the heroes of my youth. But then, as I grew older, I heard the voice of my second-favorite President, Ronald Reagan, and I joined the Republican Party.
But whatever your calling is, however early it began, don't let anybody gainsay it. Don’t let anybody tell you that's a child's dream that you had. It's not. It's a calling, and you recognize it in your heart. And so I encourage you to have faith in that calling. Believe in it. Reach for it. Grab it. And understand the sky is the limit.
I stand before you today deeply humbled to tell you that the dream of my life was to someday represent my hometown here in Washington, D.C. And it took me a couple times trying. I lost the two times I ran for Congress. And then 10 years later I was elected. And I served here in our Nation's Capital for 12 years. It was a great blessing. And that was the greatest aspiration of my life. I never imagined, to be honest with you, that I'd have a chance -- this grandson of an immigrant -- to be governor of the state that I grew up in, but I had the chance to serve as governor of the state of Indiana. And I don’t know even know where to put the office I have the opportunity to hold today. It's just deeply humbling to me.
People ask me sometimes, what's it like to be the 48th Vice President of the United States? And I just tell them, it's a privilege and I'm humbled. But I really do believe these words of admonition I've given each one of you this morning, if you make these qualities more real in your life, then you need to keep your arms and legs in the ride at all times. Pull the roll bar down, because you just got to hang on. Because wherever you're from, people will be drawn to your leadership, and you just hang on for where it's going to go.
So have faith in your abilities, have faith in the boundless nature of your dreams. And, lastly, if you're of a mind, have faith in Him who I believe put these gifts and callings within you, because I believe He'll open doors of opportunity and blessing in your life that you could never ask or imagine.
For again, lastly, as the Old Book says, we got a big Bible verse over the mantle in our home. It's been there since the first time I ran successfully for office back in 1999. It simply reads words out of the Book of Jeremiah. It says: “For I know the plans I have for you -- plans to prosper you and not to harm you; plans to give you hope and a future.”
Today you may be students, tomorrow you will be leaders. And I know that with your help, with your hard work, with your character and with your efforts, and with God's help, this generation will take this country to heights unimaginable and a boundless American future.
And as you prepare to begin your lives as leaders, be confident. As I look out across this gathering, inspired by the shining faces that are looking back at me, and I look at the leadership of President Trump and the leadership that we enjoy in this nation at every level, I'm confident -- and I say to this rising generation -- together, we will make America safe again. We will make America prosperous again. And as our President loves to say, we will Make America Great Again.
Thank you very much. God bless you. Congratulations. (Applause.)
10:19 A.M. EDT