Commencement - Class of 2011
16 May 2011
Admiral Mullen, Mr. Slater, Members of the VMI Board of Visitors, Members of the Academic Board, Faculty and Staff, families and friends of today’s graduating cadets, and member of the Corps of Cadets of the Virginia Military Institute…welcome to this Commencement Ceremony…the climax of four years of diligent study and hard work by the Class of 2011.
I have the great pleasure as we begin this morning’s ceremony to welcome Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who will address the graduating class. Admiral Mullen will be “formally” introduced in a few moments by the First Class President; however, I want to take this opportunity to extend my personal welcome to him…and Mrs. Mullen…and express, on the part of the entire VMI community, our sincere appreciation to both of you for being with us today. Admiral Mullen is the highest ranking officer in the U.S. Armed Forces and the President’s principal military advisor. Since taking office as Chairman in October of 2007, he has focused his efforts on defending vital national interests in the Middle East; resetting, revitalizing, and reconstituting the Armed Forces after years of conflict; and, daily balancing near and far term decisions that impact global risk. On his watch, we have seen many positive accomplishments, including the most recent success by our special operating forces. We thank you, Sir, for your presence at the Institute today…and for your untiring duty and patriotic service to our nation.
Graduation from VMI is a great personal achievement, but it is an achievement that cannot be reached alone. Many others have contributed to the success of today’s graduates: parents and grandparents, guardians, brothers and sisters, friends, Brother Rats, faculty, staff, coaches, and host families, to name but a few. VMI is “particularly” grateful to parents and grandparents for encouraging and sustaining their sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters, throughout these cadet years. May I ask parents & grandparents to please stand and receive our thanks…. This is certainly a proud day for you.
Universities and colleges are many things to many people, but I’ve always felt that at the heart of any great institution of higher education is its faculty. They are the ones who teach, guide, counsel, and encourage young people on a day-to-day basis. I include in this group our military staff and those who coach our athletes…, for at VMI we believe that the academic and physical aspects make for a “full and complete” education. Please join me in expressing thanks to the Institute’s faculty.
The Class of 2011 matriculated in August 2007 with a strength of 463… and today will graduate 246 cadets. One hundred and nineteen members of the Class of 2011 took their commissioning oath yesterday and received the rank of second lieutenant or ensign. Many others will be commissioned immediately after graduation upon completion of the U.S. Army and US Marine Corps summer training; through our nation’s Officer Candidate School (OCS) program; or attendance at the U.S. Coast Guard Basic Officer Training School. Greater than 57% of the Class of 2011 are commissioning…reinforcing VMI’s historic mission of producing Citizen-Soldiers. Many VMI cadets, staff, and faculty have been called to active duty in support of the current war on terror, thus placing their lives and cadetships temporarily on hold. In addition, there are parents and family members – and others in the audience this morning – who have served. Would all of you – “patriots” – who in the current conflict and at other time, have served please stand and receive our appreciation for your service.
I want (now) to thank the Class of 2011 for your leadership and all that you have accomplished over your four years. When you entered VMI in 2007, yours was the largest matriculating class to date…, and today, you represent the largest graduating class in VMI’s long history. You marched in memorable parades for President Obama’s inauguration, for former Vice President Dick Cheney, for Governor McDonnell, and for former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. As First Classmen, you led the Corps in a way that embraced Old Corps traditions with high standards. A tough Ratline that remembered New Market, a strong emphasis on the Rat-Dyke relationship, increased “transparency” in Honor Court procedures, solid performance by your athletic teams, and a Corps Trip to the University of Virginia that demonstrated very well the school spirit that characterizes VMI. I thank and commend your Class President, Mr. Manning, Mr. Gerardo, your Regimental Commander, and Mr. Gingrich, President of the Honor Court for their leadership this year. Privates and Rankers alike of the Class of 2011 leave barracks today as a very tight-knit and proud class.
And, finally, I salute you for your actions over four years, while living much of that in a construction zone…, as you witnessed and lived with the construction and dedication of Third Barracks and the renovation of Old and New Barracks. I commend you for your “patience and perspective”. I congratulate you on your important academic achievements: scholar athletes, leaders nationally in undergraduate research, impressive graduate school attendance, impressive commissioning awards and numbers, and many top-tier academic awards. These accomplishments add to the luster of your class and to the reputation of the Institute.
As cadets, you have witnessed many changes at VMI, especially in the physical plant, but also in academic programs and procedures. More importantly, taking a larger view, in four short years you have also witnessed monumental events and developments that have changed the world, including natural disasters of epic proportions, democratic revolutions in North Africa and the Middle East, a major economic recession, and the development of such technological advances as Facebook and Twitter that have fundamentally impacted how we communicate, to name but a few. Change will continue and “will accelerate”. VMI has prepared you well to adapt to changes that will come, and I’m confident you will flourish and succeed.
Commencement marks and celebrates the end of a period of intense and concentrated formation and the beginning of a long period in which you will apply what you have learned. The lessons you have learned at VMI and the habits you have developed will remain with you and guide you throughout your life. Remain true to them. Hold onto the concept of honor that is the foundation stone – the very bedrock – of VMI. Seek ways to serve your community and your nation. Use your talents to their utmost… and strive to develop new talents, new knowledge, and new directions. People will hold you to a higher standard because you are a VMI graduate. This high expectation cannot be avoided… it comes with the ring and the diploma… Embrace it as the heritage that has been passed on to you by former graduating classes, and strive always to preserve and enhance it.
On behalf of the Institute and its Alumni, I extend to you our sincerest congratulations on your many accomplishments and offer best wishes on the new adventures you are about to begin.
GENERAL J. H. BINFORD PEAY, III