When her husband was asked to move to Utah to lead the scandal-plagued 2002 Winter Olympics in 1998, Ann Romney had just been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
"My right leg was numb, I was losing my balance, I was stumbling, I was very fatigued," she said Friday at Southern Utah University’s commencement. "I was frightened. The disease was progressing rapidly and I had no idea how debilitated I would become."
The former first lady of Massachusetts and wife of two-time Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney spoke to nearly 1,800 graduates at SUU in Cedar City.
She told the graduates to hold on to their college friends, take on the challenge of parenthood, read the Bible and live a "purpose-driven life."
Taking the Winter Olympics job across the country in Salt Lake City was "crazy. It was also the best move we ever made because it came with a higher purpose."
The treatment Ann Romney received in Utah helped put the disease in remission, and she was able to run with the Olympic torch just before the Opening Ceremony in 2002.
Much earlier, she had started on another difficult but rewarding endeavor: parenting.
"Too often, young people put off parenting, thinking they can’t have a career and a family," said Ann Romney, who had the first of her five sons when she was a student at Brigham Young University. "It’s as challenging as any job you might choose to do and more rewarding than anything else you can imagine."
Keeping with the theme of traditional values, she encouraged the students to look to the Bible.
"The Bible works, so do what it says. You may not believe, like I do, the Bible was inspired by God, but if not, you’d surely have to admit it was written by some greatest philosophers and thinkers in history," she said. "Either way, it’s worth paying a good deal of attention to what it has to say."
For many of the graduates, she said, this might be the first time they don’t have a straightforward path to what to do next.
"You’re on a train that’s been going full speed ahead, and suddenly you’re out of track," she said, remembering her own graduation day. "I had a very clear realization that I had no idea what was next for me."
And the "anemic" economy still makes things tough for newly minted graduates, she said.
"It used to be that the American Dream was to own your own home," she said. "Now the American Dream is getting your kids out of the home you own."
But there’s still "adventure ahead."
While it may not include a curriculum, the world beyond college holds plenty of learning for the Class of 2014, said student speaker Valerie Owens. The creative-writing major called it "the university of experience."
"You are a student to every man, woman and child you will ever meet," she said. "This life is a beautiful thing to be living, and the knowledge you gain will only make it all the more worthwhile."
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