Norwich celebrates leadership with address, museum opening © Jan. 29, 2007 Norwich University Office of Communications
The concept of leadership is not taken lightly on the Norwich campus, and when opportunity permits, The Hill pulls out all the stops to honor past leaders and prepare future NU alums for their roles at the helm of this great nation.
Such was the case on Jan. 19, 2007, when leadership was on the march, at the podium, and on display across the campus as a week-long celebration of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. came to a close. As the culmination of the week's events, retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Julius Becton, Jr. addressed the full Corps of Cadets just prior to attending the grand opening of the University's new Sullivan Museum and History Center.
"My definition of leadership," Becton explained to the Corps in Plumley Armory, "is the ability to develop your character so that people will willingly follow you through hell and high water."
Holding more titles and earning more distinctions than most, Lt. Gen. Becton was the perfect choice of speaker to hammer home the points about what makes a true leader. A decorated war veteran, he enlisted in the U.S. Army as a private and retired a three-star general. Along the way Becton developed the reputation of a leader who could restore accountability in troubled organizations. It's that reputation that earned him a presidential appointment as the Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at a time when the agency was mired in graft and corruption. In later years, Becton served as the President of Prairie View A&M University and then as the chief executive officer of the Washington, D.C. public school system, a position he accepted following the dismissal of the previous CEO and the replacement of the entire school board.
Becton had no complex formulas or elaborate models of leadership to share with Cadets when he took the stage, nonetheless his advice was well received by students who seemed to hang on his every word. Speaking plainly from more than fifty years of experience and with the no-nonsense approach of a seasoned infantryman, Becton explained the importance of integrity to the student body.
"You are either honest, or you're not. You either tell the truth, or you tell a lie," he told the crowd. "Integrity is non negotiable. I have fired more people over the subject of integrity than any other issue."
Following the address, Becton made his way across the UP to the south side of campus, where he took in the stories of other leaders who have called The Hill their home. Inside the newly constructed Sullivan Museum and History Center, the stories of Norwich leaders — from the past and present — are told through displays, learning stations and massive wall hangings. Along with Becton, approximately 250 people attended the opening, including Vermont's elected leader, Gov. James Douglas.
"Our state is blessed with many fine universities and colleges, and their contributions to our economy and to our intellectual capital are enormous," Douglas said. "Here at the nation’s oldest private military academy, the lessons of history and the power of knowledge are celebrated on a daily basis. The Sullivan Museum and History Center will be a focal point of that ongoing commemoration of the power of intellect."
Unveiled to the public during the opening was the museum's first major exhibition, Scholars, Citizens, Soldiers: Norwich University, 1819-2019. According to the museum’s director, Karen Petersen, the exhibit presents "a timeline exploration of Norwich history and the institution’s place in American history. This installation serves as the centerpiece for lively and compelling displays, rotating exhibits, audio-visual presentations in our theatre and workshops and lectures that will bring the Norwich story to life."
Future exhibitions scheduled to open in 2007 will also highlight past, present and future leaders associated with Norwich. In April, installations detailing the life of Norwich's founder, Alden Partridge, and that of retired U.S. Army Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan ’59, are scheduled to open. Additionally, in September the museum will feature a commemorative exhibit in celebration of the 60th anniversary of the University's Mountain Cold Weather (MCW) ROTC program.
Standing just beneath a looming, snow-covered, model mountain that will serve as the anchor piece for the MCW installation, Norwich President Richard Schneider reminded attendees that the museum not only honors Norwich's past, it will serve to educate future generations of leaders on The Hill. Moreover, Schneider said, new chapters are being added to the Norwich story, which is created by everyone involved with the University.
"The Norwich story really is amazing," Schneider said to close out his speech. "A college founded in a small Vermont town by a visionary who wanted to overhaul higher education in America — an institution that survived a ruinous fire and moved to a new community — a place where honor, teamwork and service to others are still at the core of the educational experience. The story is told here in this building. The story is always evolving, and you all are a part of it."