The sleepy town of Lynchburg, Va., looked more like Hollywood this weekend thanks to Liberty University, America’s largest evangelical college.

A-list actor Vince Vaughn and two-time Academy Award winner Mel Gibson both took the podium to address more than 19,000 graduates at Liberty’s commencement (video posted below). They were joined by reality television star Willie Robertson of “Duck Dynasty” fame and Randall Wallace, the celebrated screenwriter of films such as “Braceheart,” “We Were Soldiers,” and “Secretariat.” The keynote commencement address was given by Rashad Jennings, running back for the New York Giants and a Liberty alumnus.

Colleges typically use commencements as a chance to showcase their academic bona fides by inviting well-known thought leaders and nationally known politicians to speak. But Liberty has never pretended to be an academic powerhouse. So its officials passed over the stuffy elites and invited well-known conservative celebrities instead. Beyond creating a fun public relations storyline, their choice of convocation speakers matters. After a year in which nonestablishment presidential candidates paid homage to Liberty’s students, this ceremony solidifies their place as a leader atop the conservative populism movement that’s sweeping the nation.

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Written by Jonathan