In a video posted Tuesday, he told new graduates that they should "embrace hardship" and consider themselves lucky for graduating during the novel coronavirus pandemic — a time the Republican lawmaker, 36, said will give them "perspective."
“Instead of graduation pictures you get, well, Tiger King and toilet paper memes with a Zoom prom, if you’re lucky,” Crenshaw said in the video before transitioning his virtual commencement speech into a rally for students to push through the pandemic and use it to inspire them to become better people.
“Is this the single hardest moment in your life?” he asked. “If that’s the case, then try this truth: Others have been through harder times than this and they got through it, and you can too.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has killed more than 100,000 people in the U.S. and all but shut down much of daily life across the country sine March, including spring graduation ceremonies for the class of 2020. The cancellations led to a wave of celebrities and politicians giving virtual commencement speeches in place of the otherwise nixed academic gatherings.
Crenshaw's remarks were in contrast to the kindlier inspirational language others have tended to use for their own addresses. Instead, the lawmaker used his experiences as a military veteran and his late mother's cancer diagnosis to draw sharp comparisons to what students are going through now.
Crenshaw lost his right eye from an explosion while serving as a Navy SEAL in Afghanistan and rose to national prominence after Saturday Night Live's Pete Davidson joked about the politician's injury in 2018 before apologizing to Crenshaw in person on a later episode.
"You want to learn a new perspective?" Crenshaw said in his Tuesday speech. "Well, try losing an eye. I don't mean a new sense of depth perception — I mean real perspective."
Crenshaw's hard-nosed address was sometimes critical of the graduating class while trying to give them a motivational kick on their way to transitioning into their next phase of life.
"We are becoming increasingly fragile, frightened and offended at everything," he said. "Well, that won't help you when the hard times come."
The first-term politician's message also strayed toward politics at times, as when he talked about the "sensationalized news media" and "online bullies attacking your character," telling students there are "bad people trying to take advantage of you."
"That's the reality," he said. "You will have to confront these things."
Will Heath/NBC From left to right: Rep. Dan Crenshaw appears alongside 'Saturday Night Live' star Pete Davidson on the show in 2018
Crenshaw was elected to Congress in 2018 in the week between Davidson's joke on SNL and his live apology during the "Weekend Update" segment.
Since taking office, the former SEAL — a staunch supporter of President Donald Trump — has been lauded as the future of the Republican Party and a potential presidential candidate later in his career.
In Tuesday's speech, with dramatic music building in the background and constantly changing camera angles, Crenshaw's graduation speech simultaneously ran down a list of his personal and political accomplishments while offering a stern message to the graduating class about perseverance.
"I derive strength from my suffering," he said, indicating students should do the same during the pandemic. "I confront the inevitable trials of life with a smile."
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