Here’s the text of the speech given Friday by Gen. David Petraeus, in charge of the U.S. Central Command, to graduates from Georgia Gwinnett College:
Well, as he just said, Brigadier General (Retired) Dan Kaufman and I go way back… He was a great boss when he was a LTC and I was a young major. He’s been a true friend and mentor every since. And I owe him more than a few favors for helping me identify future superstars for my units and staffs over the years. In truth, I’m here today because of him.
Having said that, it is a true privilege to be able to speak to all of you today—and not just because it was Dan Kaufman who asked me to come! I’m delighted to have this opportunity, because I believe that what you here at Georgia Gwinnett College are doing is worthwhile and exciting: creating a public institution of higher learning that develops the whole person, that encourages faculty engagement with students, and that aims to inspire its graduates to contribute to their communities. You’ve developed a very innovative model here, and you’re going about it in a very impressive fashion.
In my experience, impressive projects require visionary leaders. So allow me turn the spotlight back on your College President. Dan Kaufman has indeed provided the vision and leadership required to turn a big idea into reality, managing everything from curricula and faculty development to building plans and road construction. But I’m aware that he also knows how to have a good time and how to instill a spirit of fun in those around him; it did not surprise me to learn, for example, that your president is the first speaker ever to make a presentation to the Gwinnett County Chamber of Commerce with a Sam Adams in hand! Regardless, it’s clear that GGC is in good hands, and I’d ask that you all join me in thanking President Kaufman for his extraordinary leadership.
You know, I heard an interesting story as we were driving to this ceremony this morning.
Well, if I could, I’d like to get back to more serious matters and offer a few quick words to the parents of those graduating today. Though the focus this morning, rightly, will be on those about to walk across the stage and receive their diplomas, congratulations are in order to you, too, for reaching this day. You have been the “National Bank of Mom and Dad” for quite a while now. And I know your favorite graduates appreciate that. More importantly, however, you have also served as sources of energy and encouragement, as advisors and counselors, and as supporters and admirers for your son or daughter in the graduating class. So we need to recognize you today, as well as those you’re here to applaud. Congratulations to each of you!
Well, as I thought forward to what I wanted to say to those of you creating history and setting precedents today by being among GGC’s first graduates, I was reminded of our nation’s ultimate precedent-setter, our first president, George Washington. Very early in his first term in office, he reflected in a letter to a friend about the magnitude of his role as the first President of the United States. “I walk on untrodden ground,” he wrote. “There is scarcely a part of my conduct which may not hereafter be drawn into precedent.” He was, of course, right: by his actions each day, he established traditions that are now so ingrained we rarely think of their roots.
While none of you may be able to relate to the particular challenges of being the President of the United States – yet… – each of you graduating today is familiar with untrodden ground. Some of that ground is physical; I do, after all, stand here facing a large, cordoned-off construction zone that I understand will eventually give way to your college library. And there’s no more fitting symbol of all the newness around here than the decidedly nondescript name of that beautiful glass and brick building behind me: “The B Building.” [I can only assume you’re working something a bit more creative, Dan?] But even more untrodden are the paths that GGC graduates take. The question, “What do GGC graduates stand for?” is still unanswered—and that presents those of you graduating today with a tremendous opportunity. Your actions after you leave this college and enter the work force will begin establishing the answer to this question—and will set precedents and establish traditions for future Georgia Gwinnett graduates.
In the military, we celebrate the legacies, the traditions and the histories, of our units. If I may use my favorite example: the Screaming Eagles of the 101st Airborne Division proudly carry on the spirit that was defined by the paratroopers of World War II. Similarly, at West Point, cadets are reminded of the heritage of their Academy when they memorize the words of “The Corps,” a song about the Corps of Cadets, among which are ones that state that “…[W]e of the Corps are treading where they of the Corps have trod.” In other words, we follow in the footsteps of those who came before us and build on the history that they helped write. Indeed, I like to remind today’s troopers that we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. And because of that, we stand very tall indeed.
For Georgia Gwinnett College, history lies ahead, not behind. Indeed, for those of you graduating today, yours are the shoulders on which future generations of GGC graduates will stand. So: What kind of shoulders will they be? Again, what will GGC graduates stand for?
Of course, there are some precedents already being established that I’m sure supporters of Georgia Gwinnett would love to continue. I can only assume that the 100% giving rate established by the first 49 graduates would be one of those!
In all seriousness, though, as those of you graduating today move on from GGC, you have the opportunity to help define its character, its culture, its hallmarks. And as you go about doing that, I would urge you to keep in mind the wisdom in Teddy Roosevelt’s assertion that “Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.”
By all accounts, Georgia Gwinnett students and faculty have already cultivated a culture of service here. So I know that you graduates sitting before me already know about work that is worth doing. You know that such work is typically characterized by commitment to something larger than self, to a greater good, to public service.
You might suspect that someone wearing a uniform would think of service in terms of military service. And I certainly would underscore the importance of the commitment of those who serve our country in uniform. In fact, if anyone’s interested, I’m sure we can quickly locate the nearest military recruiter right after this ceremony! But service comes in many forms. Whether in the commercial sector or in local political arenas, on the health care front or in the educational arena, there is much work worth doing.
In fact, I would submit that now, more than ever, our nation needs leaders and “world changers” in its civilian ranks. The many pressing challenges we face—from reviving the economy to overcoming poverty, from achieving renewable energy to improving American education—demand young leaders who will provide energy, commitment, and example.
Georgia Gwinnett prides itself on investing in the “whole person.” Each of you has benefited greatly from your teachers’ willingness to hold weekend study sessions, to give you a call when you missed a class, and to talk about life with you over lunch in the Atrium. I would urge you to provide a return on that investment. Take the knowledge and experiences you’ve acquired here at GGC back to your communities with an eye toward serving the greater good. Invest in those around you, wherever you work and whatever your career. In so doing, you will help this be the hallmark of GGC graduates: that they invest in work worth doing.
But the reward is not just in work worth doing. As Teddy Roosevelt observed, the prize is also in working hard at it. Again, those of you graduating today know this concept well. Nobody can make it through years of reading and outlining, lectures and classes, tests and papers without a great deal of hard work. And today, having attained the goal of graduating from this institution, you can all affirm the immense satisfaction that comes from having worked so hard at work worth doing.
I would urge you to keep this satisfaction in mind as you prepare for the challenges that lie ahead. Needless to say, obstacles will arise on a regular basis as you devote yourself to service. This is certainly the case in today’s tough economic times, when finding a job and paying back student loans can be particularly daunting processes. Achieving any worthwhile goal can be a long, hard slog and almost always requires relentless determination.
As you might imagine, those of us who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan are very familiar with undertaking long, hard slogs. So allow me to quickly share with you words from which I drew great strength over the course of our toughest days in Iraq, when there were upwards of 160 enemy attacks per day. They are the words of General Grant after the first bloody day in the Battle of Shiloh during the Civil War. Grant was sitting in the rain under a tree late that night, having nearly been driven into the Tennessee River, his men having sustained terrible losses to the Confederate attack, when Grant’s trusted comrade General Sherman appeared out of the dark and sat down next to him. Sherman could sense Grant’s mood, and he let a few minutes pass before speaking. Finally he did. “Well, Grant,” he observed, “we’ve had the devil’s own day, haven’t we?” “Yep,” Grant replied, taking a soggy cigar out of his mouth, “Lick ‘em tomorrow, though.” Lick ‘em tomorrow… That is relentless determination, and it’s what I would urge you to demonstrate as you leave here today, for there are few things of value in life that can be earned by any other course than sheer, hard work.
Let me conclude today by recalling some other inspirational words from Teddy Roosevelt, these from his famous “Man in the Arena” speech. “It is not the critic who counts,” Roosevelt observed, “not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
To each of you graduating today: As you head out on “untrodden ground,” I encourage you to blaze a trail of Georgia Gwinnett graduates who, generation after generation, enter the arena with determination, energy, and commitment. Congratulations on all that you have accomplished here in the course of earning the diplomas you will receive shortly. And may God bless your efforts as you all work hard at work that is truly worth doing. Thank you very much.
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