Trump urges university graduates to stand up to criticism
President Donald Trump has urged graduates of a Christian university to follow their convictions but to also be willing to stand up to criticism from others who do not have the courage to do what is right.
Delivering his first commencement address, Mr Trump kept to an upbeat message in his first extended public appearance since firing James Comey as FBI director this week.
He had earlier said the lawyer and veteran prosecutor was an incompetent "showboat" and "grandstander".
The timing of Mr Comey's dismissal raised questions about Mr Trump's decision, as the FBI continues its investigation into Russia's role in the 2016 presidential campaign that ended with Mr Trump's election.
Mr Trump did not mention the fallout over Mr Comey's firing in his remarks to graduates of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, a Christian school whose leader was one of his earliest and most outspoken supporters during the campaign.
Drawing parallels with what was widely viewed as a longshot bid by Mr Trump for the presidency, he urged the more than 18,000 graduates to fight for what they believe in and to "challenge entrenched interests and failed power structures".
A crowd of more than double that size filled an outdoor stadium on campus to welcome only the second sitting president to address the university's commencement.
"Remember this, nothing worth doing ever, ever, ever came easy," Mr Trump said.
"Following your convictions means you must be willing to face criticism from those who lack the same courage to do what is right, and they know what is right but they don't have the courage or the guts or the stamina to take it and to do it."
Mr Trump told graduates to "treat the word 'impossible' as nothing more than motivation" and to embrace being called an "outsider" because "it's the outsiders who change the world".
"The more that a broken system tells you that you're wrong, the more certain you must be that you must keep pushing ahead," added Mr Trump, who often complains about being underestimated during the presidential campaign.
Mr Trump, who took office on January 20, also sounded familiar campaign themes about a broken system in Washington.
"In my short time in Washington, I've seen first hand how the system is broken," he said.
"A small group of failed voices who think they know everything and understand everyone, want to tell everyone else what to do and how to live and what to think.
"But you aren't going to let other people tell you what to believe, especially when you know that you're right.
"We don't need a lecture from Washington, D.C, on how to lead our lives," Mr Trump said.
Jerry Falwell, Liberty's president, helped Mr Trump win an overwhelming 80% of the white evangelical vote.
A recent Pew Research Center survey marking Mr Trump's first 100 days in office, a milestone reached on April 29, found three quarters of white evangelicals approved of his performance as president while just 39% of the general public held the same view.
Mr Falwell, who endorsed Mr Trump in January 2016 just before that year's Iowa caucuses, praised his actions on issues that concern Christian conservatives.
"I really don't think any other president has done more for evangelicals and the faith community in four months than President Trump has," Falwell told The Associated Press.
Mr Trump has spoken at Liberty University before. He courted Christians there in January 2016 with a speech that drew laughs from some in the audience when he referred to one of the Bible's books as "Two Corinthians" instead of the more common "Second Corinthians."
In that speech, Mr Trump promised: "We're going to protect Christianity, and I can say that. I don't have to be politically correct."