Remarks at Academic Convocation, 2010
General J. Binford Peay, III
13 September 2010
Members of the Corps of Cadets, Members of the Academic Board, faculty and staff, ladies and gentlemen.
Welcome to this morning’s convocation marking the opening of the 2010-2011 academic year. We are honored to have with us Mr. Tom Slater, President of the VMI Board of Visitors and Mr. Morris Dees, today’s Convocation speaker, whom I will have the pleasure of introducing to you in a few moments.
First, I want to recognize the cadets who are seated to your front. They are Cadets Distinguished in Academic Merit, and I ask you to join me in expressing our warmest congratulations to them on their accomplishments. [Applause]
This annual Convocation, coming as it does at the very beginning of the academic year, acknowledges and celebrates the central mission of VMI as an institution of higher education. In many ways VMI is a unique college, having military and character-building components integral to its overall educational program, but it has in common with colleges across the nation an overarching emphasis on the development of intellectual and critical thinking skills in its students.
One of the distinctive features of VMI is that cadet life, as it is organized, provides countless opportunities to test those intellectual and critical thinking skills in day-to-day activities, as well as in the classroom. As we begin this academic year, let us remember that the aim is not just to store up knowledge and develop skills for the future, but to use that knowledge and exercise those skills now. Developing the mind is a process, it is not simply the accumulation of courses on a transcript. And the process has a goal, which is to make us informed, skilled, effective, confident, wise, and useful citizens.
Much is made these days of the need for practical education, the kind of education that leads to a job or a career. Too little emphasis on this aspect of education may lead to a life disconnected from the day to day realities of the world, but too much emphasis may lead to a life deprived of the deep satisfaction that comes from the life of the mind. As you navigate your academic journey at VMI, seek a balance between the two. In addition, grasp the adventure and excitement of learning, explore new paths, develop new interests and skills, and build on your strengths and talents. The foundation that you are laying here at the Institute will serve you for a lifetime, so make it strong and as wide as possible. Prepare yourself for unexpected opportunities: for you cannot know at this moment where life will take you.
Everywhere, today, we hear people talking about “change.” Politicians want to bring change to our government; scientists talk about our rapidly changing environment; the global economy is changing; and repositioning nations, the nature of warfare and conflict is changing; social norms and behavior are changing; and, our understanding of the universe is changing. And that is true. But we should not forget that every generation experiences change. The measure of a generation, in fact, is how it responds to change, and that response depends greatly on its store of knowledge, its intellectual vitality, its creativity, and its confidence. Knowledge enables us to embrace change, to manage it, and to bend it to the common good. Your four years in an academic community, coupled with a commitment to life-long learning, can make you and your generation agents of change and managers of change
I am confident that the academic program of this Institute will serve you well and prepare you to face the future with confidence. The recent advances and accomplishments of our academic program have been impressive, resulting in graduates better prepared to meet the challenges of an increasingly complex and changing world, and sad to say, an increasingly dangerous world. I am extremely proud that VMI produces talented young men and women for all the varied work of civil life, as well as volunteers in defense of the nation. VMI’s time-honored mission to produce citizen-soldiers has proven, once more, the extraordinary value of this military college to our state and nation, especially in this time of conflict and threat.
Now it is my pleasure to introduce our speaker for this morning.
Mr. Morris Dees is a native of Alabama, where he graduated from the University of Alabama Schoolof Law in 1960.
Following a successful business and law career, Mr. Morris Dees co-founded the Southern Poverty Law Center in 1971, for which he serves as the chief trial counsel. The Center specializes in civil rights cases, with special attention to bringing lawsuits against white supremacist hate groups. In 1981, he successfully sued the Ku Klux Klan and won a $7 million judgment for the mother of a black lynching victim in Alabama. The judgment bankrupted the United Klans of America. His work has made him a target of criticism and numerous threats against his life.
In conjunction with this work, he has written three books: A Season For Justice, an autobiography; Hate on Trial: The Case Against America’s Most Dangerous Neo-Nazi; and Gathering Storm: America’s Militia Threat. His work has earned him numerous honors and awards, including the “Trial Lawyer of the Year” from Trial Lawyers for Public Justice, and the “Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Award” from the National Education Association.
In 2006, he was named one of the 100 most influential lawyers in America by the National Law Journal. In addition, the University of Alabama Law School and the New York law firm of Skadden, Arps jointly created the annual Morris Dees Justice Award to honor a lawyer devoted to public service work.
Please welcome Mr. Morris Dees...