9 May 2004
Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan's Commencement Speech
Thank you, President Schneider, for those kind words. We are all proud of you and your team, and, I want to note particularly, your supportive and caring spouse, Jaime.
Members of the Board of Trustees, the Academic Board/Community, professors Gary Lord and Ted Marsden, faculty, staff, proud parents, and most importantly, graduates of the Class of 2004, speaking on behalf of the Trustees, I want to note and congratulate Professor Countryman, our Honorary Degree Recipient.
To the graduates, Baccalaureate and Masters, let me congratulate you. You have performed to high standards and have succeeded -- we are all proud of you.
Celebrations such as this are meaningful for any number of reasons: successful attainment of a goal, the beginning of a new and exciting phase of our life's journey, but graduation from college/commencement are particularly special because our families, our loved ones, friends and supporters are here with us. I would, therefore, like to thank all of you -- families, friends, loved ones, faculty, staff who made today possible.
You, each of you, have sacrificed to make today possible.
Now, Class of 2004, -- Proud of you! Good for you!
We are all filled with pride related to your accomplishments. We take strength from your youthful spirit, your apparent zest for life, and your optimism. You seem, to even the most casual observer, me, to understand and exhibit self-awareness that each of you has an important, as yet undefined, role to play in the continuous march of American history. You, like every other graduate of Norwich, will wake up tomorrow and be a Norwich graduate. You will have become more than simply a Master of Arts, Bachelor of History, an RN, an Ensign/2LT -- you might be all of these; you have successfully completed what was only a dream 4, 5, 6 years ago. You have proven to all that you can realize, make possible, a personal vision. You have now established that you are capable of making the transition from an idea -- personal improvement -- to reality by graduating from Norwich University.
Forty-nine years ago, I took my cadet oath in Plumley Armory. I was given this very crest at some point during my Rook year. I have had it with me, with my uniform items and special things, for 49 years: my 4 years here, and 45 as a tangible reminder of my days here, my youth, my friends, family, mentors, and a link not only with the past but a guide to the future. If one of you stands here 45 years from today, that will be to graduate the Class of 2049! As I mature and advance in years, I meet Norwich graduates or moms or dads of Norwich grads who share with me the pride they and I have about our University, the transcendent words of our motto and a common bond we share. It's powerful: Hey, Sir, ... Norwich '85 civilian ... Navy ... Air Force ... Marine ... Coast Guard ... Div Arty 10th Mtn ... Wife....
Yesterday in White Chapel, Mrs. Joann Kelley, the spouse of Colonel Mike Kelley, herself a graduate of Norwich, proudly showed me her ring. It dawned on me that in life certain value-laden symbols travel over time.
This crest, your class ring, your hat brass, your diplomas symbolize Norwich values, Partridge's vision, our traditions, your pursuit of excellence, and the role of a disciplined citizen in our democracy -- citizen/soldier.
This crest, now faded and unshined, represents for me not only continuity with the past, but my link with you and classes to come across this platform years into the future.
Most of the people who influenced me here are now names on buildings or monuments or inscribed on bronze plaques. Not all, certainly not all of my classmates, but some are: two KIA in Vietnam, some who died young. MG Harmon a giant of a man to us in the '50s and '60s; Professor Eber Spencer, who is memorialized through a gift from two of his students by the mace Dr. Marsden carried into this hall. I was also influenced by those who spoke to us and by those responsible for our development. People of strength of character, men and women of stature, people such as your leaders and professors, predecessors to President and Mrs. Schneider, Dean of Students Martha Mathis, Colonel Kelley, military leaders, your coaches, healthcare providers, professors -- think of those who have touched you in some way, including recent graduates such as 2LT Kelly Shiffen, Army Nurse Corps NU '02, now a trauma nurse at Walter Reed, the Veterans of our global War on Terror campaigns who are here today. Governor Douglas and Senator Leahy of this great state, who by their very presence here during visits symbolize our pluralistic dynamic democratic republic. Mr. Joe Galloway, a combat journalist, decorated by the U.S. Army, who manifests freedom of the press, talent and courage -- citizen/soldiers.
We have living icons and icons of the past: Harmon; Dewey; Platt; Dodge; Oliver O. Howard, a Norwich Trustee, Civil War General, founder and first director of the Freedman's Bureau and the man for whom Howard University is named.
This crest is about all of this and more. It symbolizes the promises of the future, the rising sun, the accomplishments of the past -- transit and promise of the future: exploration, the need to serve in war and peace. It also symbolizes for me the power of the human spirit when motivated by love of country and grounded in values and bounded by respect for laws of the people as defined by the people.
This crest and motto has served me on my journey, and it will serve us -- you and those who will follow -- on your journey.
You have completed your years of learning and growth and will soon receive a piece of parchment testifying to that fact. While it is important, what is more important is that today you are a winner, and we, those who love and respect you, know it is and share in some small way in your pride. You are a winner in life, because you have demonstrated you have the discipline and intellect and values which set you aside as a Norwich graduate -- enjoy the moment!
Good luck to each of you! We admire you and salute your accomplishments.
General Gordon R. Sullivan