Stuart Johnson, Deseret Morning News
PROVO A month of controversy over the decision to invite Vice President Dick Cheney to speak at Brigham Young University's commencement ended Thursday with more than 20,000 BYU graduates and their families, along with faculty and staff, soaking Cheney in applause.
There was no sign of disapproval inside the Marriott Center. Instead, the crowd cheered as Cheney arrived with President Gordon B. Hinckley of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. President Hinckley returned the greeting with a signature wave of his cane. The crowd cheered again when Cheney received an honorary doctorate of public service and cheered repeatedly during his apolitical speech, interrupting it 18 times with applause.
Camera flashes blinked furiously around the packed arena as Cheney and President Hinckley entered. The flashes grew particularly intense when the lights went down at the beginning of Cheney's speech.
Cheney returned the adulation.
"Thank you for the warm welcome to Provo, Utah, home of one of the finest universities in the United States of America," he said, later adding that "BYU is a place of faith and kindness and compassion."
Early speculation that Cheney, despite low national approval ratings, would be welcomed in one of the most conservative places in America was confirmed when sustained applause followed his declaration that "I bring congratulations and good wishes from the president of the United States, George W. Bush."
The advice portion of the commencement speech mirrored messages Cheney has delivered at other commencements over the past five years, but first Cheney called President Hinckley "a distinguished American" as a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
He also drew shouts of approval by noting BYU was ranked No. 1 on the Princeton Review's "stone-cold sober" list every year the graduates were at the university. And he celebrated BYU's victories this school year over rival University of Utah in basketball and especially football, a game he said was won with "Jonny Harline's answered prayer."
Cheney also mentioned that two of his wife Lynne's great-grandparents graduated from Brigham Young Academy before it became BYU, and that her great-great-grandmother joined a train of 50 wagons in 1848 to travel to Utah "to make the desert bloom."
He told the graduates to watch for opportunities and people who will point them in unexpected but fulfilling directions, much like a visit to Congressman Donald Rumsfeld in the 1960s led Cheney away from a career as a professor and into nearly 40 years of public service.
"For all the plans we make in life, sometimes life has other plans for us," he said.
He also encouraged graduates to pick themselves up if they fail to succeed, as he did at Yale University before earning two degrees at the University of Wyoming.
"America is still the country of the second chance," Cheney said. "Most of us end up needing one."
The advice was the same he gave last year at Louisiana State University and at commencements at four other schools from 2002-05. Those speeches and the BYU speech are online at www.whitehouse.gov.
Cheney thanked BYU for the honorary degree and closed by saying, "I leave here as a proud member of the Brigham Young Class of 2007."
A standing ovation lasted a full minute.
Lew Cramer, whose nephew Stephen John Pearson delivered a speech on behalf of his fellow graduates, called Cheney's speech "a home run."
Several students said the warm reception for Cheney was intended to send a message from the majority of the BYU community.
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