Randolph-Macon Academy Commencement Remarks
May 29, 2010
Mr. Silek, General Hobgood, Congressman Shirley Jackson Lee, Distinguished Guests, members of the Faculty and Staff, members of the Corps of Cadets, grandparents, parents and friends. It is an honor to be here today and I thank you for your kind invitation to be with you on your commencement.
Two weeks ago, I participated in the commencement ceremony of another Corps of Cadets (here) in the Valley of Virginia – the Corps of Cadets of the Virginia Military Institute, in Lexington. The significance of that ceremony and today’s ceremony at Randolph Macon Academy is much the same. The main difference, of course, is that VMI cadets were completing four years of college classes and were about to launch into careers in the wider world. Here, on the other hand, you are completing your secondary education. Despite the differences in the ages of our cadets and the academic levels of our two schools, both Corps share a common experience: members of each Corps of Cadets have developed and matured within a military environment that places as much emphasis on honor, character-building, and self-discipline as it does upon academic attainment and career preparation.
Both you and the graduating cadets of the Virginia Military Institute have completed a distinctive educational program … one that is demanding both intellectually and physically … one that is aimed at producing honorable and useful citizens of intelligence, talent, and … above all .. of character … one aimed at producing leaders for our communities and our nation … and one that values individual responsibility and respect for others. The uniforms may differ, but the graduating cadets 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.
Over the course of 118 years, Randolph-Macon Academy has grown and developed into one of the premier college-preparatory military schools in our nation. Your founder and third president, Dr. William W. Smith, were he alive today, would be proud of this school and proud of your graduating class and its accomplishments. Similarly, we owe a special thanks to General Hobgood…and Mrs. Carolyn Hobgood… for their leadership, vision and tireless work. And, we should thank our teachers, coaches, and parents for their dedication.
Graduation is a time of great joy…and yet it is a sad time saying farewell to friends. It is also a time for reflection on what you have gained as Randolph-Macon cadets. You have grown intellectually and acquired useful knowledge. You have had many opportunities to develop your leadership skills within a military organization because one of the main features of a military school is that cadets “early on” are given responsibility for much of the day-to-day operations of the Corps. You have developed self-discipline that will benefit you for years to come in a variety of situations. You have developed confidence in yourself. Your experiences have instilled in you character traits that set Randolph-Macon Academy cadets apart from others and certainly will strengthen you as you reach for your potential in life…. I’m often asked about great leaders…and what are their make-up… I believe: …“Great leaders have vision, are competent in their daily duty, and care deeply about people. They exhibit a style of “quiet excellence” with no ego, a strong work ethic, and quiet passion for what they do…they display steadiness under pressure. Character and honor, love of country and service, describe their drive and inner strength.” … America needs these qualities…and America needs you!
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, honor, and courage. And…, in displaying that courage, we need leaders that do so with civility…an ingredient that regretfully has been lacking in our society.
You are entering a complex world environment today – a world filled with opportunities and yet dangers …equal to those of the past. But you are well prepared. You are “young and you are vigorous and confident”. The future --- yours and the nation’s ---“lies before you.” You have a wonderful opportunity to make a difference because the education you have received at Randolph-Macon Academy has prepared you well for such a life filled with challenges.
As you graduate today, my advice to you is: seize the day – use every day that you have… fully, productively, and creatively. Pursue your life’s work with passion and commitment. Work hard! Care deeply about your family, friends, and associates. Care deeply about responsibility, honor, and duty. Be a role model for a more civilized world. When you look in the mirror, always see “a citizen armed with virtue.”
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.
As you depart today…pause for a moment on these hilltops and witness one last time the beauty of the Shenandoah; focus on the distinctive architectural ramparts of these buildings; envision an earlier RMA Corps on parade…and a senior class doing their duty… “listen”…and you will hear them say…the living and the dead whispering in your ear ---- “Well done, well done Class of 2010!”