Remarks at Commencement Ceremony
16 May 2007
Governor Kaine, Mr. Minor, Members of the Board of Visitors, Members of the Academic Board and Faculty, families and friends of today’s graduating Cadets, member of the Corps of Cadets. Welcome to Commencement for the Class of 2007.
I am very pleased to welcome to this ceremony our Governor and Commander-in-Chief, Governor Tim Kaine, who will address our graduating class. Governor Kaine will be formally introduced in a few moments; however, I want to take this opportunity to extend my personal welcome and to say that we are honored by your presence today. In these days marked by the celebration of 400 years of settlement in Virginia, in these days marked by steady progress of our Commonwealth, in these days marked by the tragedy at our sister institution in Blacksburg, and in these days of serious security challenges for our state and nation, we are grateful for your leadership, and commitment to the welfare of all of our fellow citizens. The entire VMI family thanks you for the consistency of your support and the assistance that you have provided the Institute as it moves towards its 200th Anniversary in 2039…and that in these very busy times (for you) that you would honor VMI by addressing our graduates this morning. Sir, welcome to the Institute.
This is somewhat of a “nostalgic” day for the Peays as the Class of 2007 and we arrived “together” on that blistering hot summer day of 2003. I watched you matriculate as a Rat Mass at 436 strong, to endure one of the most structured academic and military regimens in the country, and grow over four years to take on the mantel of leadership in the Corps, and perform splendidly in your first class year.
Today,  cadets will receive the Bachelor of Arts degree or the Bachelor of Science degree, and  have been commissioned as officers in the U.S. Armed Forces. These accomplishments mark the successful completion of a rigorous four-year course of study, training, and development of qualities essential to a VMI cadet: honor, character, and self-discipline. These are the well-known qualities of VMI graduates and have remained so for well over one hundred and sixty years, since the first Institute class was graduated at 25 strong in 1842.
Many have contributed to the success of today’s graduates: parents, friends, faculty, staff, and coaches, to name but a few. VMI particularly thanks the parents for sending your sons and daughters to the Institute, and for the support you provided them thru-out their cadetship. May I ask the parents to please stand and receive our thanks. At the heart of great institutions are the very best faculty. We are especially fortunate to have an outstanding faculty that has enhanced the academic experience of all cadets and advanced the reputation of VMI in the higher education community, as demonstrated by state-wide teaching awards and recognition for VMI’s leadership in undergraduate research.
We are especially proud that the Institute’s reputation as a school for the citizen soldier continues to rise. 51% of the Class of 2007 took their commissioning oath yesterday and were pinned on as second lieutenants or ensigns. That percentage, in time of war, is especially commendable and reinforces VMI’s historic mission of producing citizen soldiers. I want to thank our talented military staff for the excellent results this year and for their dedicated service to the nation. 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. I would like these patriots to stand and receive our thanks…And, there are parents and family members --- others in the audience this morning who have served, as well, would you please stand.
Your class has had extraordinary leadership: your Class President, Jamal Walton; the President of the Honor Court, Tyler Freeman, and First Captain, Sal Sferrazza. You gentlemen have been superb leaders. There have been other “active” leaders, and – as is always the case – there have been the “quiet and informal” leaders who helped to move the Class of 2007 and the Institute to increased heights. To all of you, I express our respect for your duty.
I won’t attempt to present a complete list of your accomplishments thru 4 years, but I would like to mention a few.
- You participated in an unprecedented number of ceremonial parades “off post” --- President Bush’s inaugural on that cold day in our nation’s capitol; Governor Kaine’s inaugural amidst rainy conditions in Williamsburg; the Corps on parade at the Yorktown Anniversary; “march-ons” at Corps trips to away football games; as honor and color guards for the Jamestown ceremonies in Great Britain and more recently, in honor of the Queen of England’s visit to Richmond. All have brought wide acclaim for your professionalism.
- You did a splendid job in the conduct of Cadre duties and the Rat Line for the Class of 2010…, and you improved significantly the Ring Figure celebration and associated activities in your second class year.
- Your class had an exceptionally large number of academically and ROTC distinguished cadets…whom also were leaders in many Corps activities…and you won (or placed high) in a number of national awards and scholarships.
- The athletes in your class adjusted to many new coaches and “set the stage” for what I believe in later years will be described as the commencement of a “decade of excellence” in athletics at the Institute. And,
- You “ran the Corps” thru your committee and activity and sports structures…advancing civility, standards, and education.
- Maybe global warming has impacted the Shenandoah Valley…, for you had only one (1) Corps snowball fight and that was in your Rat year.
The life you have lived at VMI, and the habits you have developed, will remain with you and guide you through-out life. Ralph Waldo Emerson had great advice for all of us ---when he wrote--- “Do not follow where the path may lead…. Go instead where there is no path…, and leave a trail.” As you set out from the Institute to “blaze” that trail, find your life’s work in something you feel “passionately” about, hold onto the concept of honor that is so dear at VMI, and to the broadest concept of duty and selfless service. And, I ask that you remain connected to the Institute. Wear your ring; display your diploma, and remember at all times that you are “VMI graduates”. You are our “credentials”. This is the legacy that has been passed on to you by other graduating classes. It is now your heritage, and I’m confident you will pass it on to others.
Armed with knowledge, skill, honor, and character – you now move “boldly” into the next phase of life.
The Institute extends our sincerest congratulations and best wishes!