Podcast: Norwich University 2016 Convocation Ceremony

Photo: NU International Center director Thy Yang at podium addresses unseen student body
Norwich University Office of Communications

September 5, 2016

Norwich University’s new assistant vice president for international education, Thy Yang, gave the keynote address during convocation ceremonies on August 30. Addressing students and faculty, Yang said her aim is “to have at least one, if not ten conversations with you about why you should have an international experience.” She also challenged Norwich students, particularly the Class of 2020, to meet as many people as possible. “The more different from you they are, the better.”

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Norwich Commencement |The Speeches: Gen. Raymond Odierno’s 2016 Graduation Address

Photo: Gen. Raymond Odierno addresses the Norwich University Class of 2016 during commencement ceremonies at Shapiro Field House

Former U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno received an honorary doctorate in military science from Norwich University on May 14, 2016, after which he delivered the 2016 Norwich University Commencement Address. A copy of his prepared remarks follow.

President Schneider, thank you for that very kind introduction and your incredible leadership and stewardship of this great university. I’m excited and inspired for our nations future as a look out upon the men and women of the class of 2016.

And it’s such a pleasure to be back at this beautiful campus. Every time I come here I’m struck by what a perfect setting this is to develop and educate young men and women to be future leaders. An Incredible setting with incredible people creates the right atmosphere for learning

Today is the day to celebrate the hard work and awesome achievements of the class of 2016. First, I want to thank the Faculty and Staff who invested so heavily in every student’s development. Your steadfast commitment and dedication has contributed greatly to every student who will receive their coveted diploma today. To all the family members and friends here today. You have supported your students for the last 4 years and for some maybe a bit longer. I will not mention any names. Your love and support allowed each of these men and women to grow and mature and realize their goal. You should be very proud of your son, daughter, grandson, granddaughter, brother, sister, niece or nephew. They have demonstrated endurance, resilience, dedication and selflessness. We all can agree they are very different from the young men and women who entered Norwich in 2012. Students lets give the Faculty and staff and all your friends and family members a round of applause.

Before I go any further, I’ll just say that I’ve learned over the years that being a good Keynote speaker is the art of saying a lot without talking a lot. I remember the message from a young school boy who had to give a report on Julius Caesar. “Julius Caesar was born a long time ago,” The boy began. “He was a great General. He won some important battles. He made a long speech. They killed him.” So today today with many anxious graduates and families I’ll try not to earn Caesars fate.

Norwich is a special place that has had an outsized influence on our military and our society. Of course, as the birthplace of ROTC, you’ve produced thousands of military leaders for our nation, including well over a hundred general officers and flag officers who played key roles in our forces. One of those, General Gordon Sullivan, graduated from this school in 1959 and went on to be one of the most consequential chiefs of staff our Army has ever had.

But beyond those accomplishments, for two centuries you’ve also been a model for the entire American higher education system. And for more than four decades you’ve been a place where the military and the civilian worlds come together in the classroom and on the campus in a way that is as unusual as it is valuable. There are many military colleges and academies around the world, but to find one that has military and civilian students fully integrated, side by side, as they are here, is exceedingly rare, and each of you has gotten a rare grounding in both worlds as a result of that.

And that cross-grounding is so important. Everyone here has the opportunity to choose your own destiny. It is my belief that No one’s destiny is predetermined. You will define yourself by your choices and actions. There is no greater gift then the one of selfless service to the betterment of human kind.

We, all of us, had the good fortune to be born in or to immigrate to a country that lives on the principle of serving others and the greater good. As you leave here, I’d charge you to dedicate yourselves to doing your part in the life of your nation through service of your own, whether it’s by taking up military commissions; or by seeking careers in teaching or healing or civil service; or maybe by doing local volunteer work as you pursue careers in the private sector. Whatever your walk of life, the future of the nation is going to depend on people like you making the choice of selfless service. Of course, that’s a choice that Norwich graduates have always made, just as your distinguished fellow alumnus General Gordon Sullivan did. He not only served 36 years in the Army, but for the past 18 years he has served as the President of the Association of the US Army, an organization dedicated solely to the welfare of our soldiers. More than half a century of service to his country and its Army…believe me when I say that Gordon Sullivan could have had any job and commanded any salary he wished, but he chose a lifetime of service to his country and his fellow service members. In my book, that’s the epitome of selfless service, and just like you, he started that journey right here at Norwich.

As Americans, we choose to selflessly serve our country not simply because it’s the place we’re from. America is not just a place; it’s an idea, one that is unique in human history. When we are in service to our country, we are in service to the uniquely American idea that individuals have the right and the ability to choose. Never forget that your own actions, hard work, and everyday experiences are the things that will determine what you become in life, and not what someone else has predetermined you will become.

You’ve heard it said many times that our country is the land of opportunity, and it’s true. I say that as the son of first-generation Italian-American parents (who are unfortunately no longer with us) and who, if they had been here to see it, would no doubt have been surprised to see their son as the Chief of Staff of the Army, considering my family’s somewhat humble beginnings in the lower East Side of New York. But as people who left the old world to come to a new one, I think they would’ve instinctively understood that this is a country where anything is possible for anyone. Where the place in which you begin your life doesn’t dictate how you live it or where you end up.

The right to make your own path in life is a precious gift that you and I have received, one that most of the world doesn’t share. Think of how many people are born, live, and die on this earth without experiencing that kind of freedom, or how many people have been willing to die just to give their children a small chance at it. I urge you to cherish this gift and not to let a day go by without making the most of it.

I’m sure for many of you the thought that the rest of the road ahead of you isn’t already defined is a bit daunting. But don’t let this deter you. Embrace it and have confidence that no one knows what you want to accomplish in your own life better than you do.

The world today is a dynamic, complex and exciting, but unfortunately it is also a dangerous place. The military graduates among you are entering the profession of arms at a time of uncertainty and unpredictability, in which our country and its allies face a challenging economic, security, and political environment around the world.

We once again find ourselves in a national dialogue regarding our national security priorities and what the future U.S. role should be around the world. It is an important discussion that will shape our future. The American way in the past has been to dangerously draw down our military forces after a prolonged conflict like the world wars, Vietnam, or the post-9/11 wars. It’s understandable; we are a peace-loving people who for most of our history have been protected by the two oceans that physically separate us from much of the rest of the world. But we have to face the fact that in the modern era, whenever we have decided to withdraw from the world, we have only made ourselves and our way of life less safe. We can’t afford to make that same mistake again now.

Almost everyday on the news we are reminded of the growing instability around the world. Failed and failing states are causing shockwaves through the post-World War II order that the United States and its allies created, an order that was designed to prevent the recurrence of world wars. The velocity of instability around the world is greater than at any other time in my life, driven partly by the proliferation of technology and digitization of information, which have created new capabilities that both friendly and enemy entities can use.

The US will be involved in resolving conflicts arising from the diffusion of state power and contests among a rising number of regional powers and social movements. Hostile nation states are likely to use non-state actors as their surrogates, and our adversaries will fight in networks across regions to create instability and insurgencies that will affect our country’s interests, and to which we will have to respond. We can already see across Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and the Pacific a level of instability that is unprecedented, and with it a clear threat to the homeland.

Steering our nation safely through this kind of environment in the coming decades is going to require strong, capable leadership at all levels, and in all forms. It will require Competent Committed leaders of Character both civilian and Military whether it be in business, education, engineering and the sciences, or throughout our government. In other words, we need great leaders in every facet of society. We need all of you graduating today to take up the mantle of leadership no matter what field you choose to work. Follow the example of great Norwich leaders of the past such as General Sullivan, Robert McDermott former CEO of USAA and Emily Caruso national champion in Air rifle and a member of 2 Olympic teams.

They each earned the trust of their superiors, subordinates and peers by performing their duties with competence, displaying commitment to the mission, and demonstrating character in their decisions and actions. Effective leaders also have a physical and mental toughness to get themselves and their team through difficult conditions, as well as moral courage to handle the difficult choices that will inevitably present themselves. And they set and enforce high standards of performance for themselves and their subordinates.

Once they’ve established this kind of foundation, the best leaders in the future will be the ones who can constantly learn and adapt, because as you are quickly going to find out, there are no predetermined solutions to the problems you’re going to face. And the pace of change is only going to increase as time passes. Being successful will require an adaptive and innovative mind, a willingness to accept prudent risk in unfamiliar or rapidly changing situations, and a flexibility to adjust based on continuous assessment.

The reason these traits are so important is that the weight of leadership is going to fall upon your shoulders right away. For the soon-to-be military officers among you, you are going to have to make decisions that have real consequences for other people, and you’re going to have to do it right out of the starting blocks. For all of you, within just months you’re going to find yourselves with expectant faces gathered around you, probably many of them older than you, awaiting your guidance, asking you, “What should we do? That’s the responsibility of leadership. It’s daunting, but embrace it.

As you cross the stage today and receive your well deserved diploma celebrate your accomplishments. But, I also want each of you to commit yourselves to a lifetime of service to others. Choosing the harder right over the easier wrong. Each generation has the responsibility to build on the success of previous generations. That is what has made this country Great!

I have mentioned the importance of character a few times already. I emphatically suggest that each and everyone of us is defined by our character. Your character will be tested and it will be the most important test you ever take. Stand up for what is right, don’t be afraid to make tough decisions and treat everyone with dignity and respect, this will earn you the respect of your fellow employers.

Great leaders inspire ordinary men and women to be extraordinary and to achieve what was believed to be unachievable. That is what this country has been built on.

I’ve had the chance to live and work all around the world, and the one thing that is very clear is that there is no nation like the United States of America. There is no other nation that allows each individual to rise and perform to the best of their abilities and provides them the opportunities to do whatever they want. However, it is your choice. I challenge you to make the best use of that choice.

Norwich is a special place I have watched them put their arms around their own during the most difficult times. Be proud of this great university and all it stands for. You will carry its legacy wherever you go or whatever you do.
Congratulations for your accomplishment on this special day. It is time for all you to change the world each in your own way. I wish you nothing but the best of luck and great success in the future. Thank you very much, and God Bless America.

Norwich Commencement | The Speeches: MG John W. Baker’s ’85 Commissioning Address

Photo of Maj. Gen. John Baker ' 85 speaking to Norwich ROTC commissioning officers on the Norwich campus

On Sunday, May 15, 2016, Norwich alum and U.S. Army Major General John W. Baker ’85 addressed ROTC commissioning officers from the Class of 2016 at the formal Norwich commissioning ceremony. Baker, who serves as Commanding General of the Army’s 7thth Signal Command (Theater), shared the following copy of his prepared remarks.

Alan, Thank you for your kind introduction. General Sullivan, sir, it’s always good to be with you. Thanks for your service. Lieutenant General Valcourt, good to see you sir and all the other general and flag officers, welcome.

So, good morning, Rooks! Just kidding! Thought you might like to hear that word one last time! Although you know that in the military Second Lieutenant and Ensign are just other words for “Rooks!” But seriously, good morning team mates. Let me start by thanking Admiral Schneider for inviting me to speak. It is an honor to be present with the faculty, future officers, and families from Norwich – my alma mater! Thanks also to professors of military science, COL Eric Brigham, COL Andrew Hird, and COL Robert Kuckuk and their spouses Vicki, Alicia, and Jennifer, as well as the other ROTC officers and NCOs for leading our future officers! I would also like to thank everyone that has made this occasion possible today and for the warm reception that my wife, Laurie and I have received upon returning to “The Hill”. And, the Norwich Band, give it up for the toobies! The Honor Guard and Salute Battery!

You know, my dad brought me to Norwich in the fall of 1980 during my senior year of high school. My dad served in the Army for over 31 years; enlisted at 18 and was commissioned at 19 through Officer Candidate School. He was a tough artilleryman. Over the years of his career he met many Norwich graduates in the Army.

When I told him I’d like to go to a school up north where I could ski, play lacrosse, and wanted to participate in ROTC, he immediately said “Norwich!” We came up, toured the school; I stayed the night in Alumni Hall with some lacrosse players and the rest was history! Norwich is the only college I applied to, and maybe the only one I could get into! I knew this was the place for me at first sight.

I’m assuming that many of you, by your presence here today, share that same experience.

I’m not sure what the secret sauce of future success is, but Norwich has it in abundance! In part, it’s the sports and coaches. Back in my day, I played lacrosse at Norwich. Our coach when I was here was a legend. Coach Wallace “MAJ” Baines! MAJ started the lacrosse program here in 1968 and is in the Norwich University hall of fame. He was a “technician” of the sport, knew its complexity and intricacies. But he also knew the human dimension of building a team, of teamwork, of relationships, and bringing out the best in his players.

We all loved the sport, we all loved our team and teammates, and we all loved “MAJ” and HE…WAS…TOUGH! How tough? Chuck Norris tough! He dipped; you know, he chewed tobacco. Always had a chew of tobacco in his mouth. Problem was, we never, ever, saw him spit! Think about that. He would just smirk at the players who chewed and spit! We just figured “MAJ” had a cast iron stomach! I’m sure there’s a “MAJ” in your stay here at Norwich, too! You’ll remember this person fondly.

My own commissioning ceremony at Norwich was 31 years ago this month on 17 May 1985. General John W. Vessey Jr., the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was the commissioning officer. My experiences at Norwich shaped me into a leader as I entered the Army as an Armor Officer. The tough academics, varsity lacrosse team experiences, hundreds of hours on the national ski patrol on Paine Mountain, and four years in the Corps of Cadets all intersected to help prepare me for a lifetime of service. And for the last three decades, the leadership crucible of life at “The Wick” and ROTC training that are the key ingredients of the Norwich experience have been my foundation. You are all many steps ahead of your contemporaries from other colleges and universities as you enter your respective services. And you, too, will find your time at Norwich is the foundation from which you will grow and succeed in our profession of arms. It’s like the face-off in a lacrosse game, because I was a middy and I took all the face-offs. The face-off winner is the quickest and the one with the most agility. And just like in a face-off, you will find during your time at Norwich that the agility of thought and the speed of decision-making you have learned here for four years will give you an early edge as you come into our military. So use it and go!

Allow me to be one of the first to congratulate all 129 of you, whom we are about to commission as Second Lieutenants and Ensigns into this great military of ours! I know that you have worked hard and are prepared to take on leading America’s best young men and women; starting in about ten minutes!

Now my remarks this morning are peppered with anecdotes and insights gleaned from many years of service. Here is the first of them: “You are never too senior to be the junior.”

Let me explain. During a recent training exercise, a newly commissioned Lieutenant was driving down a muddy back road and encountered “me.” I was driving another tactical vehicle. Unfortunately, the vehicle was stuck in the mud and I mean stuck!

This very polite and eager Lieutenant got out of his vehicle and came over to me and said:
“Your vehicle stuck, Sir?”

“Nope,” I replied as I smiled and handed him the keys, “Yours is”!

In addition to my anecdotes, if you don’t take anything else out of what I will talk about this morning, then understand my remarks are about honor, courage, and service. This is what our military and Nation needs of you. This is what your fellow Soldiers, Marines, Sailors and Airmen expect of you. Our men and women in uniform ask so little of us as leaders; only to be well led by Officers of the highest character.

And, we are going to give you the opportunity to lead. The enlisted men and women that you lead and the country that you serve deserve nothing less than your best, every minute, every hour, every day that you wear the uniforms of our country. And you will lead, in good times and in the fog, friction, and uncertainty of combat.

For all of you digital natives using your mobile devices to Instagram, Skype, Snapchat, Vine, or Tweet my speech, I’ve placed the full text of my remarks on my command’s Facebook page and you can read it later. But here in this moment, as you are about to be commissioned, hear this: You will be looked at for leadership among the people that you serve — your platoon, your flight, your ship’s division, your team! They don’t want to be your friend, but it’s ok if you were friendly. They expect a human being, not a machine. But they also expect a leader. They want somebody to stand up and show them the way. That’s what we’ve trained you to do here at Norwich; show them the way!

Next, you need to guard your integrity! No one can take your integrity from you. People can take a lot of things from you, but nobody can take away your integrity. This attribute is uniquely yours; to maintain and guard. And, it will be challenged. But, your integrity, the ability to always demand, tell and insist on the truth, to always come forward and deal with the facts, is the foundation of our military profession. We must believe what people tell us as our lives depend on the highest integrity.

Your allegiance, when you take the oath momentarily, your allegiance is to our military – and your respective service! Remember, the absolute allegiance of what you’re about is to the institution of our military. Remember that every day of your service!

Be kind to those our nation asks you to serve! Treat everyone with dignity and respect, because no one in our military is unimportant. We can’t afford to have Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, and Airmen who are unimportant. Each member of our team has a critical part. We need to treat everybody with dignity and respect and the understanding that your life — your life — depends on them, and their lives depend on you.

And, you have to learn to trust your fellow Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen! You have never had to trust in someone as much as you’re going to have to trust the men and women of our military. You will weave a tapestry of trust – an unseen but very real bond that unites us. This is a very unique part of our profession.

Learn your service history! Everything that you are wearing today, your coats, your pants, the rank insignias, the branch insignias, is all built on a heritage and a legacy and it has a reason for being a certain color, shape, or style. Learn it and you’ll understand its importance. It defines who you are as an officer of our military and who you will be as a representative of our profession.

Always remember to wear hearing protection! Everything in our military is really loud: tank main gun rounds, jets, helicopter rotors, machine guns, bugles at revile, and tough Non-commissioned Officers and Chief Petty Officers. Protect your hearing so you can hear your wife or husband telling you to take the trash out, your children’s laughter, or your daughters telling you NO when you give them a curfew decades from now.

Let me end with something bigger than ourselves – I’m referring to the core values that are common to us all whether you serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force or Marines.

Serve with Honor: Conduct yourselves in the highest ethical manner. Be honest and truthful; Be accountable through your honorable professional conduct.

Serve with Courage: Courage is the value that gives us the moral and mental strength to do what is right; and always in the service of our country.

Commit to Service: Have a sense of service before self; realize your needs are secondary to the needs of those you lead.

Ok, we’re almost done, stay with me now. This bit of advice is very, very important. I want you to call, Skype, text, or write your mother once a week. No one has more unconditional love for you than your Mom. Pay it back with frequent contact.

Last thing! We’re doing this by row; like a tactical engagement officers. I want our soon to be officers to stand up and point to the family members that got you here today. That’s an order! Families, you’re the friendlies; help your officers. Make eye contact, identify your location, yell, shout, let them know how much you appreciate them, love them and thank them! Sit back down once you see them!

Family members and friends, STAND UP, yell back. That’s a request! Make eye contact. Shout to your sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, grandsons and granddaughters, nieces and nephews, how absolutely proud you are of them. Don’t sit down until you see your officer. And remember this moment!

One last insight; this one is about the importance of timeliness, because in our military it’s all about being on time.

There was a retired Officer who landed a civilian job in a fortune 500 company. During his first week, he came in about five minutes late over a couple of days, which irritated his Boss. During his second week he came in about ten minutes late every other day to the “exasperation” of his boss. During his third week he was a half hour late; every day.

His boss couldn’t take it anymore and called him into his office and berated him for always being late. “What did they tell you when you were late in the military??” the Boss asked. The retired Officer replied, “GOOD MORNING GENERAL…”

Again, thank you very much for inviting me here this morning; it’s a true honor.

To my officers…..
Please look at me…..
You’re in the 1% now! The 1% who have volunteered to serve our nation in the military.

Now, Go out and make a difference! Lead from the front! Be the Officers that our nation needs to shape and mold our military.

And, as we say in the Army’s Signal Regiment, I’ll see you on the high ground.

God bless our Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen, Civilians, and our Families;

And may God bless the United States of America.

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

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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Transcript: Brig. Gen. Raymond Descheneaux’s 2015 Norwich Commissioning Address

On Sunday, May 10, 2015, Norwich University alum and United States Marine Corps Reserve Brigadier General Raymond R. Descheneaux ’87, the Corps’ Assistant Deputy Commandant for Aviation (Mobilization), addressed ROTC commissioning officers from the Class of 2015 at the formal Norwich commissioning ceremony. A copy of his prepared remarks follow.

Norwich: A Legacy of Leadership

 
Thank you, General Sullivan for that kind introduction. And thank you for all you continue to do on behalf of our University. From your earliest days as a cadet through your time as the 32nd Chief of Staff of the Army, through today, you continue to lead from the front. As Norwich’s most distinguished graduate in our school’s history, it is my honor to share this stage!

President Schneider and the Trustees of Norwich University, I want to personally thank you for this incredible opportunity to come home and be with my extended family. I cannot truly express my gratitude. It has been a pleasure getting to know each of you.

Today, Norwich is recognized globally because of your vision and guidance. In uniform our out of uniform, Norwich grads can be found making a positive difference in every corner of our planet and in every walk of life.

To MG Todd and all the distinguished guests I share this stage with; you have lived your life by example and we continue to look to you for guidance, you are a beacon of inspiration to us all.

To the Faculty and Staff, I thank you for your pushing these officers out of their comfort zone and expanding their view of the world. Because of you, their pedigree is unmatched.

To our military team of instructors, you are the ones who introduce reality to theory. You are where the rubber meets the road. You know what these officers will soon be confronting and have shaped their training accordingly. Thank you.

Before I continue, I would like to take a moment to wish all of the mothers in this gathering a Happy Mothers Day!

To the parents, family and friends who helped make this day possible, without your commitment, love, and sacrifice none of this could have ever happened.

Now, to the commissionees. I talk with you today as a brother in arms, a fellow graduate and a friend. From all of us here today, congratulations for making it through the crucible we call Norwich. As we all know, the hard part is not getting into Norwich, it is graduating from it.

The day you have been waiting for is finally here. By now, your car is, or should be, mostly packed with old uniforms, new uniforms and four years of who knows what. Mentally, there is Still a whirlwind-list of things you need to wrap up. Meanwhile, you have company in town! Then, of course, is the much anticipated, final drive down 89 South.

Well, for the next few minutes, I invite all of you to stop, catch your breath, and immerse yourself in the sights, sounds, and the atmosphere of this special event. This ceremony is an amazing moment-in-time…and it is ours to enjoy.

Today will mark the first day of your life as a commissioned officer. Before you take your Oath of Office, I would like to offer a few thoughts. As you know, what comes with this Oath is a great responsibility and an incredible challenge. As of today’s commissioning, you have one objective in life; to support and defend the Constitution of the United States.

For the United States military, this is a very complex and varied order that spans the globe. However, it truly boils down to one fundamental purpose: To fight and win our nation’s battles. Period!

You have made the conscious decision to take a path less traveled; one of military service as an officer in the United States Army, Navy, Air Force or Marine Corps.

Very soon, you can expect a high octane, rocket ship ride into the stratosphere, so tighten your chinstraps and lean forward. There may be no guardrails where you travel.

For our new officers, you have prepared your adult life for this challenge. You intuitively understand that military service is a calling and not just a job. In this world, if you are not thoroughly prepared, others depending on you may pay a painful price for your shortcomings.

I don’t have to tell this crowd, the threats are real. Many of you will be forward deployed faster than you realize. As we enjoy this morning, the reality is, our nation is locked in a clash of human wills, a war of ideas.

Right now, our enemies are actively preparing for or engaged in combat with our fellow countrymen. The enemy plays by their own rules; and for them, there are no rules.

Radical extremists, near-peer competitors, state and non-state actors top the charts of emerging or maturing threats in 2015. Nuclear proliferation, terrorism, cyber-warfare, and piracy remain in the headlines. Then of course there are the natural disasters like tsunamis, earthquakes, and now Ebla outbreaks. Sprinkle in regional instability or contested space and there is your powder keg. This is the world you are inheriting, the domain you must master.

However, threats to our liberties and our Republic are nothing new. There will always be new bad guys, new technologies, and new realms of instability to overcome. After 196 years, Norwich has gotten pretty good at producing warrior-statesmen that can confront and eliminate the next new threat.

Norwich men and women with backs of steel have answered our nation’s call and have moved to the sound of gunfire since our first graduating class. This is who we are, and this class is no different. The commissioning Class of 2015 already knows this.

Based on my calculations, when the Twin Towers fell, you were in grade school. Armed conflict and the defense of all-we-hold-dear is all that you know. It seems your path to this commissioning is only natural.

You also know the price for eternal vigilance. You know the recent names, faces, and personalities of those colleagues who have made the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf. They and all of our brothers and sisters who have made this sacrifice will always be remembered. Today, we stand united as a testament to their service!

You have entered this calling with eyes wide open. You represent the next “greatest generation” of Americans and I’m proud to stand amongst your ranks.

Remember, coming from Norwich, you are well suited to operate in the modern battle space; a diverse battle space that blends combined and coalition partners, joint forces, inter-agency and non-government entities.

You will soon find yourself operating in a volatile, uncertain, and complex environment. And yes, there will be competing interests. To succeed, you will have to learn to thrive in this chaos; and master this domain!

To assist you I offer a few brief thoughts. Remember who you are and where you come from. Your family and Norwich have prepared you well for this journey.

Trust your instincts.

Reinforce your character and integrity at every turn. Never, ever compromise your standards.

Constantly seek self-improvement and master your profession with a vengeance.

Never underestimate your enemy or overestimate your capabilities.

Starting now, you must develop an intense if not insane work ethic. Sound extreme? Perhaps, but consider this, our enemies do not rest. They are preparing for you at this very moment. They are focused, driven, and unrelenting. They are resourceful. They have already been in the fight.

Some say you should “work smarter, not harder.” I say, in the world you will be operating, if you are not working both smarter and harder, you are already falling behind the power curve. For them to succeed, they must remain one step ahead of us. They trust you will be lazy, pre-occupied, and ineffective. You will prove them wrong.

You must master your profession so that you can get out in front of their thought process. The best hockey players don’t skate to where the puck is but where it is going. Anticipate failure and wrong turns when operating outside of your comfort zone. Correct your shortfalls, and never, ever give up. This is the difference between victory and defeat.

This is the new world you will be operating in! Remember this, as an officer it will never, ever be about you. It will be about the men, women, and the families in your care. Challenge, mentor and guide them to improve their physical, mental, and moral capabilities.

You will soon be handed the keys to America’s most precious natural resource, the American warfighter. Like those of yesteryear, this post 9-11 warfighter is amazing. Like you, they run like stallions, have the tenacity of a pit-bull, the cunning of a fox, and an insatiable hunger for information. They serve by choice and possess an unlimited fountain of ambition.

You will learn from them and they will learn from you. As a commissioned officer you have the additional obligation to develop and care for them. As a parent to a child, you must mentor, inspire, and always lead by example. You must also have compassion and understanding; a firm and guiding hand. They will emulate you. You are grooming our next generation of leaders.

Success is not based on machines or technology, but rather human nature and the will to succeed. This is has always been the intangible yet critical element of warfare; inspiring an individual’s will to overcome adversity. This is why the United States military is so successful in the art of “centralized command and decentralized control.”

We groom and trust our subordinates. Properly led, the American service member will deliver incredible results with their heart and soul. No threat on Earth can stop them!

And now, the torch is being passed and it is up to you. The future is yours; you will seize the moment. Like the Norwich men and women before you, there is no doubt you will blaze your own noteworthy trail in our Nation’s history!

We again want you to know how proud we are of your achievements. We know this world will be a safer place because of you. On behalf of your entire Norwich family, we wish you god-speed, fair winds and following seas as you become an officer in the United States military.

Thank you. Norwich Forever!

Baccalaureate: “Cootie Girl & the Construction of Moral Character,” Prof. Randall Balmer’s 2015 Norwich Address

An ordained minister, PhD, and chair of the Department of Religion at Dartmouth College, Prof. Randall Balmer gave the 2015 Norwich University Baccalaureate address in White Chapel on Friday, May 8, 2015. He came at the invitation of his friend, Norwich University Chaplain William Wick. A copy of Reverend Balmer’s prepared remarks follow.

Cootie Girl & the Construction of Moral Character

John 8:2-10

Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, 4they said to him, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?’ They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, ‘Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’ And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus straightened up and said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one, sir.’ And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.’

I remember the eyes as though it were yesterday. They were pretty. Blue. Expectant, yet afraid. “This is Diane,” one of my new fourth-grade classmates said, pointing in her direction. “Don’t let her touch you. She’s the Cootie Girl.”

I did not know then – and I’m not entirely sure today – what a cootie is, but I could tell from the context that it wasn’t a good thing. Cooties – and, by extension, Diane herself – should be avoided at all costs.

I was the new kid at Wenona School. My family had just moved to Bay City, Michigan, from the farm country of southern Minnesota. I was fearful myself in this alien environment, and insecure. I had never seen a one-way street until that summer of 1963, yet there I was living on DeWitt Street, which was bracketed at both ends by three-lane, one-way streets, each headed in the opposite direction. I was fearful every night when I crawled into bed; I tried to stay awake and listen for an inevitable intruder so I could warn my family and summon the police. Once I finally did succumb to sleep, sirens, another new phenomenon, woke me nearly every night. By the time of the first day of school, I was desperate for a friendly face amid these city kids everywhere around me.

There was, I could tell, something different about Diane. My family was hardly affluent – not by any stretch of the imagination – nor were the kids at Wenona School. But the dress she wore was tattered. Her shoes appeared to have been repaired crudely and by hand. Someone whispered that she and her mother lived alone. At lunchtime, she ate alone. Although she had a pleasant smile, Diane looked slightly disheveled and unkempt. Waiflike. A wisp of dishwater-blonde hair fell awkwardly across her forehead and into her eyes.

Occasionally, the Cootie Girl would play along. After listening to taunts on the macadam that passed for a playground in this strange new world, Diane would chase her tormenters, who would shriek in horror and run away. Anyone she tagged, boy or girl, had cooties, which, although it appeared to have no long-term effect, was not considered a good thing by the fourth-grade cohort at Wenona School.

Like a pack of wolves taunting a moose, children of that age can devise ingenious ways to belittle anyone they choose to ostracize. I recall one day standing in a queue across the hallway from a janitor’s closet. One of my classmates had apparently been musing on the word “custodian” painted on the door. “Hey, look,” he shouted, moving his hands across the letters and articulating the syllables slowly: “CUS-TO-DIAN.”

Everyone chortled at the brilliance of the put-down, of course, but I caught the wounded look in Diane’s eyes. Yet another insult, yet another wound to carry home that night. “And where do you stand?” the eyes asked. Would the new kid become just another tormenter, or maybe, hoping against hope, a friend?

I think I recognized even then that it was a defining moment. It was a kind of test. Are you with us, my new classmates were asking, or are you going to be a geek, a loser, an outcast like the Cootie Girl? In the words of the Pharisees in the Gospel reading, “What do you say?”

Jesus fashioned an entire career out of his association with outcasts. He spent his time with harlots and tax collectors rather than the hoi polloi of his day. He healed gimps and paralytics and those we would call neurotics and schizophrenics today. Fishermen were hardly the élite of Palestinian culture in the first century. And when the Jewish equivalent of a lynch mob was collecting rocks to execute the adulterous woman, Jesus crouched down, scratched a few letters in the sand, and, with a few well-chosen words, dispersed the mob.

The Gospels don’t record what he wrote there in the dust, but my guess would be that it had something to do with who we are, all of us, in the divine economy. Perhaps Jesus listed the names of her accusers, and perhaps he added the names of every man who had ever slept with the accused woman, and – who knows? – there may have been a name or two that appeared in both columns. The bearded men packing stones were no better than the woman caught in someone’s bedroom. We are all sad and pitiable, the dusty letters read. We have terrible secrets and overwhelming fears, and one of the signs of our wretchedness is that we organize into packs to deceive ourselves into thinking that we are somehow not as lost or as desperate or as hopeless as we know we really are. There is safety in numbers, and one of the timeless ways we congratulate ourselves is to draw lines and boundaries, marking off who is good and bad, righteous and unrighteous, saved and damned, cool and not cool – careful, of course, to locate ourselves on the right side of those lines.

That’s what the Pharisees were doing with the woman caught in adultery. They had formed into a pack and, armed with their impeccable understanding of the law, what was right and what was wrong, they determined that she was on the wrong side of their lines. Women had a tough enough life in first-century Palestine, but this woman had violated their rules, and she must die! Anything short of death would have upset their system, would have skewed their precious lines.

Perhaps her real crime was not love or even passion. Perhaps her real crime lay in the fact that she had exposed the shallowness, the pettiness of her accusers, for when Jesus finally confronts them with their own peccadilloes, they slink away in silence.

When my daughter entered high school, she expended a great deal of energy worrying about whether or not she was part of what she called the “high group” – meaning, I gather, those who were considered the social élite. I’ve never been part of the “high group,” nor have I aspired to be. But pecking orders can be fearsome, and if you run afoul of the established order or find yourself on the wrong side of social convention, the consequences can be devastating, as my daughter learned. As the woman caught in adultery learned. And as Diane, the Cootie Girl, knew every day of her life at Wenona School.

I’ve been musing a lot in recent months about the notion of honor. Honor is not a word you hear very much any more. Many schools, including my own, have what they call an honor code, which is meant as a hedge against cheating. As nearly as I can tell, many schools adopted honor codes in the years following World War II, after honor had been forged among soldiers on the battlefields of Normandy and Corregidor and Iwo Jima. But the notion of honor took a hit during the Vietnam War – through no fault of the soldiers themselves, but because of the perfidy of the Johnson administration and the Pentagon. Honor suffered irreparable damage during the Nixon years. Jimmy Carter, a Southern Baptist Sunday-school teacher, sought to restore honor to the presidency, but by then betrayal had given way to cynicism, and we have never fully recovered.

Today, the notion of honor ranks far below such “values” as ambition and affluence. But I invite you to consider with me what honor might look like today – and if we might reappropriate it for the twenty-first century.

I suggest that the enterprise of recovering honor in the twenty-first century could do far worse than look back to the first century. In the text at hand, the passage from St. John’s Gospel, Jesus refuses to take the easy course, which would have been to join the chorus of the woman’s accusers. Jesus was already suspect in the eyes of the religious leaders; he had healed on the Sabbath, and he had suggested that simply adhering to the letter of the law somehow fell short of the mark. Jesus could have saved himself a lot of trouble and even earned some credibility in their eyes that could have saved him a lot of grief later on. He might even have picked up a stone himself. It was just one woman, after all, and not a very worthy one at that. Why not simply blend into the crowd for once? What’s the harm?

Jesus chose a different path, the path of compassion and identification with the downtrodden, with those on the margins. There was no obvious payoff for doing so, no award or citation or entry on a résumé. No one in that crowd would congratulate him for his courage or commend him for his compassion. For Jesus, the path of honor was a lonely one, one that led ultimately to the long walk up Golgotha, the place of the skull.

But Jesus did more than simply stand up to the crowd and defend an embattled individual. He also called all of them to account and rebuked them for their hypocrisy.

We have no way of knowing what Jesus scribbled there in the Palestinian sand. John is maddeningly silent on that score. I guess I’d like to think that he scratched out a few choice words for the Pharisees – “You sorry bastards are really trying my patience,” or something like that – but then Jesus thinks better of it and rubs out the curses. He stands up and surveys the scene. His eyes meet each of the accusers and then take in the woman. Back to the Pharisees and back again to the woman. Then Jesus steps back several paces, crouches down, and with his index finger traces a large circle – a circle big enough to take in the whole crowd, the Pharisees and the woman and maybe even a few bystanders, the accusers and the accused.

A circle. The quintessential symbol of femininity. A metaphor for eternity. A circle large enough to encompass everyone entangled in the web of our shared humanity, our wretchedness, our loneliness and suffering.

By now in your education – a process only begun and that will continue far beyond this day – you’ve been introduced to Aristotle’s concept of Nichomachean Ethics. This notion, which was adapted to Christian theology by St. Thomas Aquinas, holds that individuals can cultivate virtuous behavior by means of discipline and repetition. That is to say that the more we comport ourselves with honor, the more honorable we become.

I’m not interested for the moment in whether or not this is good theology. But it seems to me that honor is a noble pursuit. For most of us, the cultivation of moral character and virtuous habits is a lifelong enterprise, but every time we defend the helpless or decry the powerful, we build moral character. Therein lies the noble tradition of honor.

I wish I could tell you that you that I did the right thing back there on the macadam playground at Wenona School. We all like to be the heroes of our own stories. But I’m afraid that I’m not very good at this hero business, and I lost that opportunity for moral formation. It takes guts to stand up to peers, to resist the pressures of conformity, to choose the honorable course – and I have come to admire those with the courage to take up the cause of those less fortunate, those on the margins. And those who do summon that courage – Angelina Grimké, Elijah Lovejoy, William Wilberforce, Fred Shuttlesworth, Martin Luther King Jr. – occasionally alter the course of history. Lord knows it’s not easy to face down a mob, be they armed with legal codes or truncheons, insults or self-righteousness.

I don’t pretend that history would have been different if I had been kind to Diane, the Cootie Girl, back in Michigan more than four decades ago. But I would have been different. And perhaps she as well, if only for a moment. I was naked, and you clothed me. I was beaten and slumped over a barbed-wire fence on a cold Wyoming night; you wrapped me in a blanket and tried to revive me. I was sad and lonely, and I was wearing a ratty dress because my mother couldn’t afford anything better. But you stood up to the crowd and became my friend.

If only it were so.

I lost track of Diane long ago, although I remember her from time to time in my prayers, even all these decades later. She never made the transition from elementary to junior high school with the rest of us. Perhaps her mother found a new boyfriend or a new job. Or perhaps they decided to try a new city, to take their chances in a different school and a different community – a place where the Cootie Girl could simply be Diane, and she could start over.

What I failed to recognize those many years ago is that Diane’s tormenters were just as wretched as we thought she was. We had our own bundle of fears and anxieties. We sought to mask our own insecurities by lashing out at someone else, by drawing lines.

But the gospel draws circles. Jesus comes along and disrupts our childish games, our taunts and our sarcasm. He visits the playground and reminds us that he, the Crucified One, the Man of Sorrows, was the ultimate outcast, facing the ridicule of everyone, deserted even by those who had claimed to be his friends. He reminds us that he was suspended naked between earth and heaven for the benefit not only of the righteous or even the self-righteous but for the outcast, the person of color, for the hungry child, for Matthew Shepard, lashed to a fencepost in the cold Wyoming night, for the Muslim woman trembling with fear these days beneath her head scarf, for John Lewis and Rosa Parks – for Michael Brown and Freddie Gray, for the girl in the tattered dress, searching the crowd desperately for a friendly face.

Jesus visits our playground with a thin piece of chalk and draws a large circle. He straightens up, surveys his fellow sufferers, and gently suggests that if we have the courage somehow to see Jesus in the Cootie Girl’s wounded blue eyes, then we will have grasped something very important about the gospel, something crucial to the notion of honor.

I was naked, and you gave me a shirt. I was thirsty, dangling there from that cruel wooden tower. You came with water. I was hungry, and you brought me a slice of pie at the lunch counter, even though your boss said you would be fired for serving me. I was cold on that Wyoming night – and unconscious. You wrapped me in a blanket, hoisted me over your shoulder, and carried me home.

I was the Cootie Girl. You were my friend.

– Randall Balmer