After backlash from the Nebraska GOP led former Nebraska Governor and United States Senator Bob Kerrey to voluntarily withdraw from speaking at the 2019 commencement, Kerrey spoke on Tuesday as part of the Presidential Lecture Series.
About 250 people joined to listen to Kerrey discuss current and historical politics, his service in the Vietnam War, a leg injury and the day-to-day life for the former senator during the 90-minute session.
Mike Kelly, a retired Omaha World-Herald columnist, served as the moderator for the lecture.
Throughout the event, Kerrey often criticized the Trump administration.
An audience member asked Kerrey to address the ongoing House impeachment inquiry. Kerrey stated that any president or candidate who would work with a foreign government to go against a political opponent is “an impeachable offense.”
He also disagreed with the administration’s withdrawal of troops from Syria.
“I think we are going to look back on this one as a moment of betrayal,” Kerrey said.
Kerrey began the night with his response to Attorney General William Barr.
Barr recently spoke at Notre Dame where he stated that issues with morality in the U.S. are derived from secularism.
“I don’t believe that’s the case,” Kerrey said. “I don’t believe it’s good to separate secular Americans and non-seculars from religion. I believe strongly that you acquire the same kind of ethical conclusions that you acquire from religion from the consumption of secular material.”
Kerrey quoted Winston Churchill in his response to the Attorney General. When Churchill was asked why he does not attend church, he said that he is a buttress, or, “I support it from the outside.”
While Kerrey’s most recent visit stems from his commencement withdrawal, he has family ties to Creighton.
Kerrey graduated from the University of Nebraska with a Bachelor of Science degree in pharmacy, but he also earned an honorary degree from Creighton in 1993.
Kerrey’s son, Ben, graduated from Creighton and “benefited enormously from it,” Kerrey said.
“Creighton does an exceptional job at preparing young men and women for making decisions when they graduate,” Kerrey said.
Although Kerrey prepared a speech and spoke from it toward the beginning, much of the night saw Kerrey sitting beside Kelly answering questions in front of the audience.
Kerrey had aspirations to become a pharmacist as a teen, but when the war began, he said, “the government decided to hire better use of my skills.”
Kerrey served as a U.S. Navy SEAL during the Vietnam War and later went on to receive a Medal of Honor.
“The government almost killed me and then it saved my life,” Kerrey said.
In combat, Kerrey lost the lower part of his right leg and was medically discharged.
Kerrey served one term as Nebraska’s governor from 1983 to 1987, and then, from 1989 to 2001, Kerrey represented Nebraska in the U.S. Senate.
After representing Nebraska in the Senate, Kerrey served as president at The New School, a university in New York City, until 2010.
Kerrey is now the Executive Chairman of the Minerva Institute for Research and Scholarship.
Provost Thomas Murray said he enjoyed hearing Kerrey’s stories, saying “his wit rose to the occasion. He is a funny guy.”
College of Arts and Sciences junior Allie Libeer, a political science major, attended Kerrey’s lecture to hear more about his service in the Senate.
“His stories were so personal that it felt like a friend or family member was talking to us which I think allowed the audience to have a connection with him,” said Libeer. “He formed such a connection with us throughout the talk and built trust. I really took what he said seriously and have a lot of respect for his position.”