BATON ROUGE, La. – The victims of Hurricane Katrina remain in the thoughts of Americans and the $85 billion in federal money that's been sent to the Gulf Coast is only the beginning of the help that's on the way, Vice President Dick Cheney said Friday.
"We will not forget the great suffering and difficulty" endured by those along the coast, Cheney told Louisiana State University graduates at the school's commencement ceremony.
Cheney received several standing ovations from graduates and other spectators inside the school's basketball arena. His 15-minute speech avoided politics and current events, aside from a brief reference to the war in Iraq and U.S. soldiers who are "winning the war on terror."
He recalled that LSU transformed the arena into a medical facility for storm victims in the weeks after Katrina struck last August, considered to be the largest acute care facility ever assembled in the face of a natural disaster. He thanked the school's students and faculty who volunteered to help the victims.
"On behalf of the nation, I thank you," he said.
Outside the arena, a small group of protesters — fewer than 50 — chanted and held signs mocking Cheney and President Bush. Several said they were angry that Cheney's speech marked the fourth consecutive year that the commencement speaker had a connection to the Bush administration: former NASA chief and LSU chancellor Sean O'Keefe last year; President Bush in 2004; and Lynne Cheney, the vice president's wife, in 2003.
"I know a lot of people consider it an honor, but I don't," said Ward Reilly, 52, a retired Baton Rouge city construction inspector. "Even if you like the (neo-conservatives), it'd be nice to have some diversity."
Cheney got big cheers by mentioning recent successes of LSU's football and basketball teams; he got laughs with references to campus parking problems and to Louie's, a popular 24-hour diner near campus.
He urged graduates to consider careers of public service, saying he had expected to go into academia, not spend over 30 years in politics and government. He jokingly recalled the point when he joined George W. Bush's presidential campaign as the running mate, after Bush had asked him to find the best candidate for the job.
"If you ever get asked to head up an important search committee ... say yes," Cheney advised the graduates.