Commencement Remarks to Wentworth Military Academy & Junior College
20 May 2006
Thank you for that warm introduction.
Congressman Skelton, General Little, Chairman Groendyke and members of the Board of Trustees, President Walton and members of the Wentworth Foundation Board of Directors, COL Lierman, Dr. Hamilton, members of the faculty and staff, parents and friends, members of "the 126th Corps." It is an honor to be here today and I thank you for your kind invitation.
A few days ago, I participated in the commencement ceremony of another Corps of Cadets in another Lexington - Lexington, Virginia. The scene on that occasion was very similar to this one today, and the meaning and significance of the two ceremonies very much the same.
Both you and the graduating cadets of the Virginia Military Institute have completed a distinctive educational program one that is demanding both physically and intellectually one that is aimed at producing useful citizens of high intelligence, talent, and above all of character. The dress uniforms may differ, but the graduating cadets from our nation's military colleges, junior colleges, academies, and schools are members of a very "special community" a very proud community. You have taken the road "less traveled". I salute you on having accepted the challenge of this very special educational experience, and I salute you on your success.
There is a good reason why the scene at graduation at the Virginia Military Institute and the scene here today are the same: it is not by accident. There has been a strong link between our two schools ever since Wentworth was established. The first Commandant of Cadets at Wentworth was CPT David W. Fleet, VMI class of 1874, and it is thought that he brought many VMI practices and traditions to your school. CPT Fleet was followed in the Commandant's post by three other graduates of VMI, and later there were three more, for a total of seven VMI graduates who have served as your Commandant. Your first Superintendent, COL Sanford Sellers was in close communication with VMI during his tenure. And a number of Wentworth graduates, starting with William Echols Rainey in 1885, have gone on to attend VMI. The latest Wentworth cadet to attend VMI was Nicolette Weaver, Wentworth Class of 1999 and graduate of VMI in 2003. She was commissioned in the U.S. Marine Corps. And like VMI, the mission of Wentworth is not exclusively military, nor to produce graduates solely interested in military careers. Like VMI, the mission of Wentworth is to produce "citizen-soldiers," men and women who possess self-discipline and other basic military qualities, honor, integrity, and a commitment to selfless public service. One of our founders at VMI wrote, in 1837, of creating "a corps of young men, guided by virtuous principles, ennobled by the ardor of patriotism, and cheered by the proud consciousness that they were, by their own exertions, preparing themselves for the highest posts under their own free government" So, you see, my Institute and your Academy share ideals and a heritage of "the citizen armed with virtue."
Yours is an "egalitarian process" that ensures that all cadets will begin the race from the same starting line, and that the measure of success and recognition will be based on merit, personal accomplishment, and strength of character. Many of you will remain friends for life. The close and rigorous life of a military school requires the cadet to be an active and contributing part of the community it requires you to be part of the team, to work with the team, and to remain loyal to the team. Contrary to what some on the outside may think, the special life of a military school promotes the development of the individual, but the individual cannot live an isolated or self-centered life in such an environment. Because a cadet lives among other cadets, every individual has an influence on other cadets, either directly or indirectly. You will find that your unique experience of living in a group, working with a team, being part of a community, and upholding its ideals and standards is excellent preparation for life - for family life and for careers. Furthermore, you will draw often on your ties to your school and your classmates in the days and years ahead.
As a graduate of this outstanding academy, you will find that much now is expected of you not only by your family and friends, but by complete strangers who might learn that you were once a cadet here. Throughout your life, you will be held to a higher standard it comes with the territory, as people say. As a graduate of Wentworth, people will expect you to be a team-player, they will expect you to have a strong work ethic and sense of responsibility, they will expect you to take pride in your appearance, in your health, in your strength, and in your intellect. People will assume that they can count on you and that you will not fail them. Above all, they will assume - without question -- that they can trust you that you live your life with honor and integrity.
A few years ago we heard much of "the Greatest Generation" that grew up in the Great Depression and won victory in World War II. But I say that every generation has an opportunity and the responsibility ... to become a "Great Generation." Each moment in the history of our great country, each new development in our society, each turning point along the way requires greatness. But what is greatness? Greatness is achieved by action - taking a stand and leading - and not by sitting back and leaving it to others. Greatness is knowing how to work with others and, when the opportunity arises, how to lead people to great accomplishments. Greatness is achieved by men and women of character, conviction, and honor.
You are entering a complex world environment today - a world filled with opportunities and dangers equal to those of the past. And you have a wonderful opportunity to make a difference because the education that you have received here at Wentworth has prepared you well for such a life and for such challengesyou now should walk boldly and confidently into the future.
Before I conclude my remarks today, I want to recognize two people who have all of the qualities I have mentioned. The first is your distinguished alumnus Congressman Ike Skelton, whose fortitude and strength of character is an inspiration to all of us. It is a special honor for me to be with Congressman Skelton today. We met for the first time years ago when I was in charge of the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas and I have maintained the greatest respect for him over the years. Sir, thanks for your long, enduring, and wonderful service to the nation.
I also want to say a few words about your outstanding Superintendent and President, MG John H. Little. His 32 years of military service to his country, his career in the private sector, and his service to the youth of this country as the head of your academic institution is a shining example for us all. As your Superintendent, General Little has devoted his work and leadership to achieving Wentworth's valued and admired mission, "to ensure that students develop the academic skills, intellectual habits, leadership qualities and character traits needed to excel in top tier colleges and universities." He has built a team of senior staff and faculty to accomplish that mission. He has developed and implemented a cadet cadre training program, and has directed a highly successful financial management program for the school. Under General Little's superb leadership, I know Wentworth will continue to grow in strength and reputation.
As you prepare (now) to go from this placefind your life's work in something you feel passionately about; commit yourself to a life of useful service; work hard, trust your instincts developed and learned here at this wonderful Academy, and care deeply about honor and dutyand your country.
This is a proud moment for you, your parents and friends, your instructors and coaches, and your school. You have earned that pride, and I congratulate you on your splendid accomplishments.
I wish you all the best in life.