After months of anticipation, legal battles, and protests, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin visited Turlock on Friday where she delivered a speech on civic education and American exceptionalism before a sold-out crowd at California State University, Stanislaus’ 50th Anniversary Gala Fundraiser.
Tuxedo-clad men and women in their finest dresses packed the Main Dining Hall at CSU Stanislaus Friday evening for what CSU Stanislaus Foundation Chairman Matt Swanson termed the “greatest meal in the history of the campus.”
But while the meal was memorable – a caprese salad with heirloom tomatoes, seared scallops and savory mushroom risotto, and frozen chocolate soufflé – the highlight was Palin’s speech.
After a brief introduction from University President Hamid Shirvani, who termed Palin a “great American,” she took the stage to chants of “Sarah” and a standing ovation.
“I’ve got my water, do I have my straws? I want my straws,” Palin said as she took the stage, acknowledging the leaked rough draft of her contract found by two CSU Stanislaus students amid shredded documents in a university Dumpster. That contract required the university to provide Palin with “bendable straws.”
Palin joked that she negotiated her contract with the entire State of California because of the leak. She singled out state Attorney General Jerry Brown for opening up an investigation into the alleged dumping of documents and the finances of the CSU Stanislaus Foundation, the campus nonprofit which hosted the fundraiser.
“Come on, this is the State of California, do you not have anything else to do?” Palin asked.
Palin said she was happy the foundation stuck with her through the controversy, though, because California has always been a special place to her. It’s Reagan country, she said.
Palin quickly delved into thanking the local community for hosting her with great hospitality. She said she appreciated meeting local farmers, who taught her a thing or two about pronunciation.
“I’ll never call an almond an almond again,” Palin joked.
The remainder of Palin’s speech centered on the topic of civic education for America’s next generation, a problem she singled out as the biggest challenge facing the country.
“My biggest fear is that we’re not passing on what it means to be an American to the next generation,” Palin said.
Being an American, Palin said, is about a constitutional right to free speech. It’s about people working hard to make something of themselves, she said. It’s about a love of freedom and free market associations.
It’s these things, Palin said, that make America the strongest, most generous country on earth.
She focused on the subject of American exceptionalism, stating that while most countries are the result of accidents of history America is the only country founded on an ideal – liberty.
But the strong will of our founders and our lasting reminders of their impact – the U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence – aren’t enough to secure the success of liberty and of a nation, Palin said.
“It’s in the striving,” Palin said.
Palin referenced Weimar Republic Germany, which she termed as one of the most democratic countries in the world at the time. But Adolf Hitler was able to turn the country to an authoritarian state because residents didn’t stand against it, she said.
Palin lauded those around the world who stand up for liberty, praising the men and women who brought down the Berlin Wall, faced down tanks in Tiananmen Square, and recently stood against an unjust election in Tehran, Iraq.
Palin compared those great individuals to the two CSU Stanislaus students who dug through Dumpsters to find her draft contract, arguing that the students would be better off pursuing a different tactic to achieve change. She suggested that, instead of “trying to tell people to sit down and shut up,” they should choose to hold America’s leadership to higher ideals.
Palin lobbied against cultural relativism, arguing that America is great because America is good. Americans needn’t be acceptant of other cultures simply because they are different if Americans can plainly see that something is wrong.
“We have seen before what happens when whole sections of society fall into that trap,” Palin said, referencing communism.
She praised former President Ronald Reagan’s bold move to term the Soviet Union as an evil empire, and said we need more of that sort of action today. Palin lauded the Arizona anti-illegal immigration law as a modern example, to uproarious applause.
Palin argued America needs to go further, however, continuing the War on Terror and fighting against female mutilation.
“We have to have the courage of our convictions to take a stand against evil when confronted with it,” Palin said.
While some seem unwilling to act, Palin was comforted that some Americans do still understand the importance of their civic duties, lauding those who choose to join the military and defend America’s freedom.
“But they get it, and thank god they get it, and they’re willing to lay down their lives for us,” Palin said.
Palin spoke of a providential hand guiding America to the future. She said America must continue to be an example for spreading democracy in other nations.
“They look to us,” Palin said. “We are that beacon of hope of what it means to be free, and truly that is nothing to apologize for.”
In looking forward, Palin argued for an education focused on common sense – something she said is “not hip on college campuses” – to build a new great generation of Americans.
But while common sense may not be hip, it’s something she sees a lot of at CSU Stanislaus, she said.
“We are so on the right track here at CSU,” Palin said, concluding her remarks.
To attendee Rob Veneman, the speech was “True Sarah Palin.”
“If you love America you love Palin,” Veneman said. “If you don’t like America you hate Palin.”
State Senator Jeff Denham (R-Merced), who was among numerous local politicians in the audience, also approved of Palin’s message.
“I think it’s not just a strong message for everyone here, but everyone in our community,” Denham said.
Biggest fundraiser in CSU Stanislaus history
In what Foundation Board President Matt Swanson termed a “very auspicious day,” the 50th Anniversary Gala became the most successful fundraiser in the history of CSU Stanislaus.
Palin’s appearance generated $450,000 in gross revenues, combining cash and in-kind contributions. The event raised $200,000 in net cash proceeds, of which one-third will go directly to funding 15 full scholarships. Other funds will be used for additional course offerings and university programs
“We have really a great deal of financial restrictions in the university and this $200,000 is going to go a long way for us,” Shirvani said.
Between 360 and 370 tickets were sold, with Swanson’s phone still “ringing off the hook” for additional tickets on the day of the event. Swanson said he fielded phone calls from 17 states during the run-up to Friday’s gala.
More than 60 percent of donors were first-time givers – a prized commodity in the current fundraising market, Swanson said. An additional 20 percent of donors had not given to the university in the last three years.
Palin succeeded as a guest of honor Swanson said, not because she was chosen to make a political statement but because she made money for the university.
Swanson said the foundation had considered inviting ZZ Top to host a concert or booking a past president to speak, but it quickly became clear that Palin drew the most interest from potential donors. Swanson also said that Palin was “our best deal,” who was paid a speaking fee well below figures quoted in the media.
Palin’s speaking fee has not been disclosed – despite legal action – as her contract stipulates the fee remain private.
“We signed a contract and I honor contracts when I sign them,” Swanson said.
Despite the protests, legal battles, and oftentimes “vile” phone calls which Swanson received, he said the foundation would still choose Palin as a speaker if asked to start the whole process over today.
“Absolutely, with the results we’ve seen we’d do it again,” Swanson said. “… We don’t have time to break even, we’ve got to make money.”
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