COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) -- A reflective President George W. Bush told graduates of Texas A&M University on Friday that popularity is capricious and what matters is whether they think they've done what is right.
In the final commencement address of his presidency, Bush commiserated with graduates who don't have a job, spoke wistfully about his affection for Texas and described the "tremendous privilege" of serving as president for two terms. Bush leaves office in 39 days, with President-elect Barack Obama to be sworn in on Jan. 20.
Bush made no mention of the failure of a bailout package for the auto industry after his lobbying of Senate Republicans or the latest dire economic news, developments likely to be a coda on his eight years in office.
An Associated Press-GfK poll this week showed just 28 percent of Americans approving of the job he is doing, about where Bush has been all fall. Among Republicans, 54 percent give him their approval, a low figure from members of a president's own party, including only 26 percent of whom approve strongly.
Bush told the graduates to pay no heed to those who recommend something that's more popular.
"Remember that popularity is as fleeting as the Texas wind. Character and conscience are as sturdy as the oaks on this campus," he told the graduates and their families at Reed Arena on the campus. "If you go home at night, look in the mirror and be satisfied that you have done what is right, you will pass the only test that matters."
In these final weeks, Bush has engaged in a great deal of self-reflection, and he reminisced about memorable moments of his presidency, with travel to 74 countries and nearly every corner of the nation. He talked about sleeping in Buckingham Palace, feasting in the desert of Abu Dhabi and flying on Marine One into cities large and small.
"These days I'm asked a lot about my time as president. Some days have been happy, some days not so happy. Every day joyous. It's been a tremendous privilege," he said.
He joked about his post-presidency prospects.
"To those of you with jobs lined up, congratulations. To those of you not exactly sure what comes next, I know how you feel," he said.
Bush, who wore the light blue gown of his alma mater Yale, alluded to several Texas A&M traditions and said he was thrilled to be in Aggie land. He said Texas was where he met his wife, Laura, and where his daughters, Jenna and Barbara, were born.
"And next month, when our time in Washington is done, Texas is where we're coming home," said the state's former governor.
Bush was introduced to the 3,700 graduates at the College Station campus by his father, former President George H.W. Bush. Also present was former first lady Barbara Bush, who was released from a Texas hospital 10 days after undergoing surgery for a perforated ulcer late last month.
"I am thrilled that our son the president is speaking to you today," she told the crowd.
Said the president to the woman often referred to as the "silver fox:" "Mom, I've been meaning to say this publicly for a long time. Thanks. Thanks for the gray hair."