Nikki Haley, the former United States ambassador to the United Nations and a former governor of South Carolina, urged Liberty University students on Friday to “make the most of today” and face challenges head on.

“When you push forward and you push through the fear, you find out you’re so much stronger on the other side,” she said. “If I didn’t push through the fear, I wouldn’t have been a legislator; if I didn’t push through the fear, I would never have run for governor; if I didn't push through the fear, I wouldn’t have become ambassador.”

Haley, 47, spoke at Liberty’s convocation as part of a tour promoting her new book, “With All Due Respect: Defending America with Grit and Grace.” In the book, Haley recounts her childhood as the daughter of Indian immigrants, her rise through South Carolina politics and her tenure as U.S. President Donald Trump’s envoy at the United Nations.

Haley, who was joined by LU President Jerry Falwell Jr., his wife Becki Falwell and Liberty’s campus pastor David Nasser, discussed the challenges she faced as U.N. ambassador and as governor, including the 2015 shooting at a historically black church in Charleston that left nine worshipers dead.

Haley said she developed post-traumatic stress disorder after the shooting and that she relied on her faith as a Christian to help heal the state.

“I felt so desperate at the time and the one thing that I will say saved me was my faith,” she said.

Haley faced other tests in the massacre’s aftermath. When photos emerged showing the Charleston shooter, an avowed white supremacist, posing with the Confederate flag, a tense debate began over the flag’s place at the South Carolina statehouse grounds. Horrified by the shooter’s use of the flag, she pushed lawmakers to remove the Confederate symbol.

“In South Carolina we held tight, we held strong,” Haley said of the experience. “We didn't have riots, we had vigils; we didn't have protests, we had hugs. And we went through a tough month in terms of debating the Confederate flag. But we held together, we held strong and the Confederate flag came down.”

Haley, who is widely seen as a future presidential candidate, was warmly embraced by a near-capacity crowd at the Vines Center, which can seat about 10,000 people. Falwell himself suggested Haley could one day mount a formidable challenge for the White House.

“I just think you’re on the right track,” he said. “With what you’ve said in your book and with the position you’ve taken, you’re going to be seen as somebody who’s not part of the old guard Republicans who betrayed conservatives like us so many times over the last four decades. So, my hat’s off to you for that.”

Falwell was in part referencing a claim made by Haley in her book that Rex Tillerson, the former U.S. Secretary of State, and John Kelly, the former White House chief of staff, attempted to recruit her in an effort to undermine Trump.

“It's not that they thought the president was unfit or rogue,” Haley said of Kelly and Tillerson. “They disagreed with him on policy and the problem with that is when the American people elect a president, they elect him because of what he said he's going to do. And for others to come in that are unelected to go and think they know better than him, it's not only against the Constitution, it's against the people who elected him.”

LU senior Conor Manzelmann, an international relations student, said Haley has a chance to be the first female president because of her ability to unite the county.

“I think that she exemplifies quality conservative American values and can defend them on a stage even when it's in a hostile environment,” he said. “She's shown that through her work in the U.N.”

Before Haley took the stage, the university sold copies of her book in the Vines Center at a discounted price of $5. Sophomore Meredith Minto bought two: one for herself and another for a friend.

“Ambassador Haley is definitely an inspiration to me,” Minto, a politics and policy student, said as she waited in line for a chance to meet Haley. “I would love to be half the woman that she is one day. Not only is she successful in her career, but she’s also successful in her home life and her spiritual life. Everything about her is just utterly awesome.”

Richard Chumney covers breaking news and public safety for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5547. 

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