Graduates ready themselves
for the call of service and leadership © May 13, 2008 Norwich University Office of Communications
At Norwich University’s 189th Commencement on May 11, 2008, the school’s abiding ethic of service to fellows and to country was everywhere in sight, from the choice of a keynote speaker to the symbols cast into each graduate’s class ring.
Four-star General John Philip Abizaid, the speaker whom Norwich recognized that day with an honorary degree of Doctor of Military Science, told graduates, “You have to decide whether you will be a spectator of life, or whether you will dive in and make a difference.”
Gen. John Philip Abizaid
Abizaid stood before students as a prime example of those who elect to become architects of change. The commander of the United States Central Command from 2003 to 2007, he oversaw American military operations over most of the Middle East during much of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Abizaid also served the U.S. military for 35 years in most of America’s late-20th–century and early-21st–century conflicts, steadily advancing in leadership roles in Grenada, the Gulf crisis, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo. He continues to share his expertise as a fellow of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.
Speaking from experience, Abizaid noted that when graduates leave campus, they will encounter a complicated national context marred by war, environmental problems, spiraling energy costs and endangered economic prosperity. Nevertheless, Abizaid said, “These are the times that call for vision, for hope, for integrity, for leadership,” and he declared, “I have seen [your generation] on the front lines of the 21st century, and I know you seek the opportunity to serve. You are tough. You are determined. … We welcome your able hands to the challenge.”
The more than 400 individuals who received undergraduate and graduate degrees at the Shapiro Field House before some 4,500 families and friends have already bent to that challenge. More than 40 percent of the Class of 2008 graduated cum laude, magna cum laude or summa cum laude. Among the large schools of Mathematics and Sciences and Social Sciences, more than 50 percent of graduates received degrees in nursing or criminal justice.
In addition, from Norwich’s Corps of Cadets, more than 90 commissioned in the armed services the day before Commencement. Col. Steve Pomeroy, who leads Norwich University’s ROTC program, expects that by the end of July, about 120 total—or nearly two-thirds of the graduating Corps—will have commissioned.
To this Class of 2008, President Richard W. Schneider quoted one of his favorite leaders, Harry Truman: Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to make things better. Looking out at the expectant faces before him, Schneider evoked all they had already accomplished, telling them, “You are courageous. You are skilled. You will have to make ethical decisions.”
As the morning’s ceremonies drew to a close, President Schneider called on Jeffrey M. Belanger, senior resident coordinator, and Jordan A. Dilena, regimental commander, to “carry out your last official [Norwich] duty.”
Belanger and Dilena instructed the new civilian and cadet graduates to turn their class rings bezel-side out, displaying the Norwich shield, the American Eagle and the school’s call to service and leadership—I will try. From that day on, Belanger and Dilena told their classmates, “Everyone will know you are a proud Norwich grad.”