SMITHFIELD, R.I. (WPRI) — Parents stood in the back as graduates looked on eagerly. Bryant University President Ron Machtley introduced the 41st President of the United States as their keynote speaker.

“He’s wearing his bulldog tie,” Machtley shouted into the microphone. “Mr. President.”

During a ceremony in May 2008, George H.W. Bush walked to podium to cheers and a standing ovation.

In 2018, Machtley stands in his office remembering his friendship with Bush after learning of his death.

“He had the background, intellect, wit and character to become a great president,” Machtley said. 

Machtley was a Rhode Island Congressman during the Bush presidency. Pictures of them together hang in his office, including memories of that very commencement speech.

Underneath a white canopy, Bush showed off some his trademark humor that day in May. 

“If at first you don’t succeed, then skydiving is not for you,” Bush joked as the crowd laughed.

Machtley remembers it well.

“I think he made the crowd feel really connected to him, not just as a president, but as a human being,” Machtley said.

“I know there’s little chance that anything I might possibly tell you would be recalled tomorrow,” Bush said during the speech. “That’s just the war graduation speeches are.”

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But Bush’s poignant words certainly left an impression. He spoke about how graduates will be remembered, not for possessions like cars and clothes, but for their character and actions.

“I happen to believe that we are the greatest, freest nation on the face of the Earth,” Bush said. “And if you take nothing else away from this, no amount of fame or fortune is worth losing your very soul.”