The 2002 Nobel Peace Prize recipient was at times funny. The former Georgia governor joked he never expected the university to have a football team, and he never expected the team to have a winning record its first season.
But much of his speech focused on more serious topics and the weighty challenges graduates will be called on to solve as they enter the world.
He encouraged graduates to be creative as they work to help America become a better nation.
"We need always to constantly stretch our minds and also to stretch our hearts, to explore new ideas and not to be bound by customs," Carter said.
He spoke of the growing military budget and the nation's armed presence around the world. He reminded the graduates that a nation's admirable characteristics are not defined by physical prowess.
"Look into the future America that you will shape, you graduates," he said. "We might ask what are the characteristics of a superpower?"
Carter suggested a list of possible commitments including peace, justice, freedom and human rights.
He said the country should be dedicated to resolving disputes through peaceful means. At this time, he said, many see America as a "most warlike of nations."
He said the country should be at the forefront of providing humane and financial assistance to people in need. He stressed the need for universal health care and a superb education system. He called on the government to be fiscally responsible and not burden children and grandchildren with debt.
"I'm not criticizing or condemning the nation I served in the military and political office, which I really love," Carter said, explaining his goal was to "outline some of the combined challenges and especially opportunities that you face as future leaders."