Prof. Emily Fisher Gray’s 2015 Norwich University Convocation Address

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Associate Professor of History Emily Fisher Gray earned her PhD from the University of Pennsylvania and won the 2015 Homer L. Dodge Award for Teaching Excellence at Norwich University. The award recognizes distinguished contributions to university life through outstanding teaching. Yesterday, Gray addressed the Norwich community at Convocation. A copy of her prepared remarks follows.

Norwich University Office of Communications

September 2, 2015

Good afternoon! It is such a privilege to speak with you today. It is humbling to receive the Dodge Award in the presence of the world-class scholars and first-rate teachers that are my colleagues on the Norwich faculty. It was also a pleasure to join many of you last Sunday for the Dog River Run. I would like to thank the Corps of Cadets for inviting the faculty to be part of that great Norwich tradition, and thank my fellow members of the Faculty Platoon. Can’t think of anyone I’d rather get sweaty, muddy, and soaked with.

The first time I witnessed the Dog River Run was soon after moving into my house, which has property that borders the river. It was a normal late-summer Sunday morning and my family was preparing to go to church when we heard some commotion in the river and cannons going off so we went down to see what was going on. (By the way, I moved here from West Philadelphia. It has taken me a while to get used to the idea that when you hear gunfire, it’s a good thing!)

As we watched the platoons of Rooks slog through the river, I could see that it had been a very difficult week for many of them. But I noticed one young man in particular who had clearly been pushed to his limits. He looked completely exhausted and it was all he could do to keep his Dog River Rock clutched tightly to himself with both arms. Then I noticed that he had a platoon member on either side of him.

These two young men’s faces also showed the strain of a difficult week, but they appeared to have been better prepared for this particular physical challenge. Each of them held their rock under one arm. Each had their free arm wrapped around the waist their Rook brother: one on one side, one on the other. These two young men were carrying their friend down the river. They would not let him give up. They would not let him fail to finish.

The image of these three Rooks has stuck with me. The two guys that wouldn’t leave their buddy behind has become for me a symbol of what makes the students I teach at Norwich so remarkable and so different from students I have encountered elsewhere. You talk about service to others before self, and you really mean it!

I can clearly recall the face of the Rook in the middle, the one who was having the most difficult day of his life. College in general, and Norwich in particular, is designed to give you experiences that push you to your limits. When we say “expect challenge”, we mean it! Those of you for whom Rook Week was a breeze are likely to find yourself challenged by Chemistry or Calculus or Chinese, or by long late nights in your Architecture studio. Some of you will encounter uncomfortable new ideas in your classes, which cause you to reassess what you thought you knew. Many of you will find yourself confronting impossibly difficult moral or ethical dilemmas: resisting an opportunity to cheat on a test or take the apparently-easy path of plagiarism on a paper. Or you might face the necessity of reporting wrongdoing in a fellow student, which may be the hardest thing you ever have to do.

When the time comes that you feel like that Rook in the river, stretched to your absolute limit, I want you to look to your right, and look to your left. You have friends here. We will help you, even if we need to carry you for a while. Hold on to your rock and keep going forward. Your friends, and your professors, and the university staff all want to see you walk across this stage in triumph and receive a diploma that signifies that you are a graduate of Norwich University.

None of us succeeds entirely on our own. Think of Harry Potter, he wouldn’t have made it out of Book 1 if it wasn’t for Ron and Hermione! Or how about the Justice League? Aquaman has some cool talents, but he’s not going to catch the bad guys without Green Lantern and Batman and Wonder Woman on his team. A few weeks ago there were three friends traveling on a train to Paris, who took down a terrorist by working together. Talk about superheroes!

We are all stronger when we have each other’s backs. This means that sometimes, you are the one who gets to step up and help somebody else. And let me tell you, these opportunities to be of service to another person rarely come when you are strong and well-rested and have lots of time on your hands. The timing is almost always awkward and inconvenient. You might feel like you are nearly at the end of your rope yourself. Don’t let that stop you.

I felt inspired this last week listening to an interview with the Army Ranger School graduating class that included the two first-ever female Rangers: Captain Kristen Griest and First Lieutenant Shaye Haver. A couple of the male graduates on their teams shared experiences from the final day of the grueling Mountain phase of Ranger training. 2nd Lt. Zachary Hagner had been carrying an automatic weapon for the squad for three days, and just couldn’t go any further. He asked each member of the squad if they would take it from him. He explained (quote) “Everyone said ‘no’. But [Griest] took it from me. She, just as broken and tired, took it from me. I guess she was really motivated.”

Similarly, Haver was also the only member of her squad who felt able to take on extra weight during the Mountain phase, helping a struggling 2nd Lt. Michael Janowski, who said (quote) “I probably wouldn’t be sitting here right now if not for Shaye.” How cool are these two women! In the midst of the toughest challenge of their lives, with the world watching and more than a few people waiting for them to fail, Kristen Griest and Shaye Haver both took on extra weight at a critical time to help their buddies so they could all earn a Ranger tab together. Seriously, who needs superheroes when we have the real thing right among us!

In closing, let me briefly thank my own “battle buddies” who have been right by my side on the great days and the tough days. My awesome husband Austin and kids Lucy and Gavin; my mother Suzanne Fisher and my in-laws Sharon and Howard Gray. Thanks guys, you’re the best. I love you.

As for the rest of you: study hard, get as much sleep as you can, don’t skip breakfast, and I’ll see you in class!

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