Remarks at Commencement Ceremony
16 May 2009
GENRAL J. H. BINFORD PEAY, III
General Petraeus, 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, members of the Corps of Cadets…, welcome to this Commencement Ceremony for the Class of 2009.
I have the pleasure as we begin this morning’s ceremony to welcome General David Petraeus, who will address our graduating class. General Petraeus will be “formally” introduced in a few moments; however, I want to take this opportunity to extend my personal welcome to him and to express, on the part of the entire VMI community, our sincere appreciation for being with us today given his enormous responsibilities as commander of U.S. Central Command. In the long and difficult history of the war in Iraq, General Petraeus has consistently recognized the difficulties and true challenges facing our forces there and, now similarly the very different challenges of Pakistan and Afghanistan. He has said that he is “a realist, not an optimist or a pessimist,” which speaks to his breadth and professionalism. Secretary of Defense Gates, who spoke (here) to the VMI graduating class of 2008, has said that General Petraeus “played a historic role” and created the “translation of a great strategy into a success in very difficult circumstances.” It is a great comfort to all our citizens that General Petraeus is now responsible for US operations in the Gulf and Middle East from Egypt to Pakistan, including Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. Dave, we are honored by your presence today. Thank you and your family for your service.
This morning 249 cadets will receive the Bachelor of Arts degree or the Bachelor of Science degree, and 128 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 the development of qualities essential to a VMI cadet: honor, character, and self-discipline.
One thing that all VMI graduates can agree upon, is that the rigorous and demanding experience of a four year VMI education cannot be accomplished alone. Many have contributed to the success of today’s graduates: parents and guardians, friends, Brother Rats, faculty, staff, coaches, and host families, to name but a few. VMI particularly thanks the parents for encouraging and sustaining their sons/ and daughters throughout these cadet years. May I ask the parents to please stand and receive our thanks….(APPLAUSE) And now, perhaps those “most responsible”…I ask the grandparents to please stand. (APPLAUSE)
Universities and colleges are many things to many people, but at the heart of any great institution of higher education is its faculty. They are the ones who teach, they 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 the physical aspects make for a “full and complete” education. May I ask you now to express your thanks to the Institute’s faculty…(APPLAUSE).
56% of the Class of 2009 took their commissioning oath yesterday and received the rank of second lieutenants or ensigns. And, more will shortly commission thru our nation’s OCS programs. That percentage, in time of war, is especially commendable and reinforces 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. Sadly, the Institute has also lost graduates in these conflicts. There are parents and family members – and others in the audience this morning – who have served as well. Would “all of you”… “patriots” who have served in this current war on terrorism…and all of our veterans of all wars, please stand and receive our appreciation for your service.
I thank the Class of 2009 for your leadership and, especially, for all that you have accomplished this year…and I particularly commend your Class President, Mr. Kimsey, for his performance. Matriculation of the Class of 2012 in August 2008, and the weeks that followed were a success, thanks to the professionalism of your cadre and your class. The 9-day orientation period, the 80-mile march to New Market battlefield made by some of your Brother Rats prior to the New Cadets taking the Cadet Oath, your help to local communities during the Fall FTX, your participation in the numerous dedication ceremonies this year of new facilities, your administration of the Rat Line, and – the magnificent performance of the Corps of Cadets in the inaugural parade of President Obama, were all conducted (under your leadership) in a “professional manner.” We are seeing a change in the athletic success at the Institute…, we are at the beginning of a decade of “winning” across all sports…and your class’s strong performance in building that foundation has been a major factor in that success. You have given VMI your best, and the Institute thanks you.
I also commend you on your “patience”. Over your four years at the Institute, there has been an unprecedented change to the physical plant with corresponding disruptions. And…I close this quick “panoramic” by congratulating you on your important academic achievements…: numerous scholar-athletes; leaders nationally in undergraduate research; impressive graduate school attendance, a large number of top-tier academic awards, and special congratulations to your Brother Rat Greg Lippiat on winning a prestigious Rhodes Scholarship, making him VMI’s 11th Rhodes Scholar. These accomplishments add to the luster of your class and of the reputation of the Institute.
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 of VMI. Seek ways to serve your community and your nation. And, as you enter into the next phase of your life, I encourage you to pursue as your life’s work something that you feel “passionately” about --- something that will use your special talents and abilities, something that will help you to grow mentally and spiritually, and something that will help you to realize your dreams. Use your talents to their utmost…, but also continue to look deep inside yourself … to develop new talents, new knowledge, and new directions.
And, finally, … I ask you to remain “connected” to the Institute. Wear your ring proudly…; display your diploma, and remember at all times that you are “VMI graduates.”… People will hold you to a higher standard because you are a VMI graduate. This is the legacy that has been passed on to you by other graduating classes. It is now your heritage, and, I am very confident that you will pass it on to others.
Armed with knowledge, and skill…, honor, and character – you now move “boldly” forward.
On behalf of the Institute and its Alumni, I extend to you our sincerest congratulations on your accomplishment and best wishes for all that surely will come your way.
It is now my honor to introduce the Valedictorian for the Class of 2009…Cadet Nicholas M. Campbell, III, an International Studies Major from Townsend, Montana. Cadet Campbell wears Academic Stars, has a 3.946 GPA, and is President of the Officer of the Guard Association. He was commissioned yesterday in the US Army Judge Advocate General Corps and will be attending Law School at Tulane University, New Orleans, in the fall.