Jeb Bush hinted at a possible run for the White House in 2016 as he encouraged students at a Christian liberal arts college in northwestern Pennsylvania to "remain true to your convictions and your faith."
"This may seem a little challenging today, where we have a federal government that is willingly violating the religious freedom of its citizens," the former Florida governor told the 585 graduates at Grove City College
, The Washington Post reports. "But we don’t have to accept it.
"If you feel inspired to serve your fellow citizens, don’t let the ugliness of politics keep you from pursuing public office," he added. "There is always room for informed, engaged, passionate leaders at every level of government."
The speech by Bush, the chairman of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, comes as he ramps up his visibility before deciding whether to seek the Republican nomination for president.
The college, founded in 1876, is about 65 miles north of Pittsburgh.
"We must recognize the power of loving, committed family life and strong communities as essential for earned success," Bush told the graduates. "Finding ways to restore strong, committed two-parent family life will help break the cycle of poverty for so many."
Commenting on the 60th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education ruling, Bush said the civil rights case a watershed in American history and noted that more still needed to be done to make education available to all citizens.
"Six decades later, substantial progress has been made through innovative reforms, but not nearly enough," Bush said, according to the Post. "Yes, states have fulfilled the letter of this ruling, but not the full promise.
"A sizable achievement gap still persists between white and affluent students and poor and minority ones.
"If we can get it right — where a child from Reading, Pa., has access to the same quality of education as a child from the Main Line suburbs of Philadelphia — education can be the great equalizer in America," he said.
Bush, 61, who was governor from 1999 to 2007, was invited to speak by Grove City College’s retiring president, Richard Jewell, who also is a former Republican fundraiser in the Pittsburgh region.
A Bush adviser told the Post that Bush accepted the invitation because he respected the college’s mission, adding that it would be Bush's only commencement address this year.
In addition, Bush's fee was paid by the Washington Speakers Bureau, the Post reports. Neither Jewell nor the Bush adviser would disclose his compensation.
On the company’s website, however, Bush is listed as generally requiring a fee of "$40,001 & up," the Post reports.
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