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Top U.S. Officer Sends Off VMI Graduates

Valedictory Address: Sharif L. Gray 

Commencement Address - Adm. Mike Mullen 

Video of Admiral Mullen's Speech 

Photo Galleries 

LEXINGTON, Va., May 16, 2011 – Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was among the first to congratulate the 311 members of the Virginia Military Institute Class of 2011 who participated in commencement exercises when he delivered an address in Cameron Hall May 16. The last time the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff addressed graduating cadets was in 2004 when Gen. Richard B. Myers visited the VMI post.

“Let me be among the first to thank you, Class of 2011,” said Mullen, who has previously served as chief and vice chief of Naval operations and commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe. “While I’m at it, let me take this opportunity to thank fathers and mothers, brothers, sisters, and grandparents, who I know have been incredibly supportive and loving over the course of these four years, and indeed, over the course of your entire lives.”

The admiral thanked the staff and faculty of the Institute for their role in developing today’s young military and civilian leaders and remembered those who are currently serving. 

“A world away there are more than 200,000 men and women defending us,” said Mullen. “Nearly 1,500 VMI graduates have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, including Capt. Charles Ransom, Class of 2001, one of nine Americans killed in a tragic shooting at the Kabul International Airport.  He was in Afghanistan training his counterparts to serve their country as he was his." 

Mullen cited the service of Dan Caine ’90, who was among the first pilots in the air to intercept potential threat targets on Sept. 11, 2001, and Michael Shupp ’81, who commanded the main effort during the Battle of Fallujah in 2005. He also commended graduating cadets Nicholas Harrelson, who will soon be deploying to Iraq for the second time with the 29th Infantry Division, and Dan Jones, who matriculated in 2004.

When Jones crossed the stage to receive his diploma, Mullen, the Corps of Cadets, faculty, staff, and guests honored him with a standing ovation. Last July, the Marine Corps sergeant was wounded by an improvised explosive device while on active duty in Afghanistan. It was his second deployment; the first, to Iraq, took him away from his studies in September 2007.

Mullen also praised the Institute and the VMI superintendent, Gen. J.H. Binford Peay III ’62, for having the highest percentage of commissioning cadets in 20 years – nearly 60 percent of the graduates have or will soon commission. 

To encourage the graduates to excel in the military and in civilian life, Mullen called upon the legacy of Gen. George C. Marshall, a member of the VMI Class of 1901, whom he credited with exhibiting the qualities of decency, competency, character, and selflessness. 

“Few things are more vital to an organization than a leader, and selflessness was the greatest of Marshall’s qualities,” he said. “If there is ever a choice between personal advancement and an institution’s needs, you must choose the institution. Marshall served where his nation needed him most; it can’t be about you.

“There will always be challenges to face, and the country will need men and women like you,” he added. “We need you. All of us are counting on you.”

 – Wendy Lovell