May 13, 2012
By Associated Press
NORTHFIELD, Vt.–Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the country’s top military officer, urged graduating military cadets and civilian students Sunday at Norwich University to “lead an uncommon life with consequences” and build trust in all their relationships as they head out into the world.
“You’ve got to start delivering from Day One,” the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told his commencement ceremonies audience at the nation’s oldest military college. The school in Vermont was founded in 1819.
In a speech laced with humor that touched on his Irish roots, Civil War history, and his time as an English major getting a master’s degree at Duke University, Dempsey called trust, leadership and honor “the pillars of our nation” whether graduates are heading into “the boardroom or battlefield.”
He reminded students that while they have accomplished much in four years, “I want you to remember your work is just beginning.”
The audience at the Shapiro Field House broke into laughter many times as Dempsey showcased his humor, whether commenting on his being a fan of the New York Yankees in Boston Red Sox country or how unmemorable most commencement speeches are.
“I’m kind of like the corpse at an Irish wake: It’s important that you have one but you shouldn’t expect much out of him,” joked Dempsey, a 1974 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
He reminded parents of the joys of the day, which included knowing “you have that moment when you’ve written your last tuition check.”
To students he said, noting the fatigue and relief on their faces, “I am aware I am the only thing standing between you and the rest of your lives. But,” he added after a pause, “I am the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and can do pretty much whatever I want,” drawing a roar from the crowd.
The general brought a serious message, as well. Talking about the “bloodiest day in American history” at the battle of Antietam in the Civil War, Dempsey said 23,000 soldiers died in a space not much larger than the university’s military parade ground. He urged graduates to feel the commitment those soldiers made to their country and measure their lives not just by effort but by accomplishments.
He related how he was set back in his academic studies when he got a “C” on a paper on English poet William Blake he spent an entire semester working on. Complaining to the professor how hard he had worked, he got a lesson he said stays with him to this day.
His professor replied, “I’m sure you did work hard on that but we don’t reward you for the effort. We reward you on the outcome,” Dempsey said.
“At the end of the day, if you aspire to an uncommon life, you have to deliver. You have to have an impact,” he said speaking to the graduates.
Dempsey said the world graduates are entering today calls for broad interdisciplinary skills, as well as trust between citizens and their nation, and among different nations and allies.
“No clear cut lines distinguish America’s pursuits any longer,” he said. “Our security commitments cut across lines of diplomacy and intelligence, economics and social progress. It demands the support of an array of skills as well as alliances, international systems and even volunteer organizations.”
He cited how Norwich cadets pitched in to help Vermonters after the devastation caused by tropical storm Irene last August and how other Norwich cadets traveled to Thailand on a rural aid project.
Those were powerful examples, he said. Society and service today “requires the best of each of us and all of us.”