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Thank you so much for that introduction ... and thank you, ladies and gentlemen.
President Ryan, Captain Rovenolt, Colonel Hough, Lieutenant Colonel Rademacher... distinguished guests ... family, friends, and of course, cadets and midshipmen ... it is an honor to be here and take part in this ceremony. Not only do I get to witness and participate in this time-honored tradition ... but my wife, Linda and I escaped Washington D.C. for the weekend ... so we have many reasons to celebrate today.
I want to start by just saying that the tradition of excellence here at University of Virginia is unlike any other. This place is a crown jewel ... one of our nation’s finest public universities ... and one of the premier ROTC programs in the country.
And for the many young people sitting here in their dress uniforms today ... who had their nose to the grindstone, day-in and day-out ... you cannot know how important this place is until you look back at it. Your time here is something you will appreciate over the years as you pause to look in the rearview mirror.
And while I know you are very happy to finish today ... eager to take on what lies ahead ... I promise you that the lessons you accumulated here are going to serve you forever. Cherish your experience here ... and cherish the people who forged that experience with you.
I also want to convey ... from the bottom of my heart ... how much I appreciate the dedication and patriotism of the parents and families in the audience today. Please everyone ... give yourselves a round of applause
This is a culminating event for all of you, too ... and I’m so thankful that you introduced your children to a way of life that puts others first ... that puts service ahead of self-interest.
And I think the only way this nation ... this Constitution ... and this experiment in democracy will continue to exist is if we raise young men and women like this ... who are willing to commit themselves to serve others ... to serve their country ... and to serve an idea of something much larger than themselves.
Today, you cadets and midshipmen become officers in the Armed Forces of the Unites States ... and earn the title of citizen-soldiers ... warriors in the profession of arms ... defenders of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Through this commissioning ... the American people are elevating you to a unique and special status in our Republic ... and they are putting their full faith in each of you to protect all that we hold dear.
As leaders in the armed service ... you have willingly made the very solemn and deliberate decision to lead our Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen, and Guardians. They are counting on you now ... those men and women from across the country who join our military. Each one of them signed a blank check payable to the American people with their lives … they need you to lead them well.
Our nation demands leaders ... as James E. Flecker put it ... who go far from the comfort and the well-lit avenues of life ... leaders who go into the unknown, uncomfortable, and sometimes dangerous situations ... and take others along with them.
You are leaving UVA now and heading to those uncomfortable situations ... physically, mentally, and ethically. Heed the guidance you received here ... because when the storm clouds gather and destiny claps the back of your shoulder ... you need to be ready to fight.
And we need all of you right now ... each one of you matters. You are joining the Armed Forces at a time of immense competition across the globe … in Eastern Europe ... in the Western Pacific … in the Arctic Basin … and in the Middle East. Democracy itself is under siege around the world. The strategic landscape continues to change … but America’s need for a strong military holds fast … just like it has since our nation’s founding.
So I want to speak briefly about what our nation specifically needs from you as an Armed Forces Officer.
First of all, as officers ... you lead the way ... towards the sound of gunfire. The profession of arms ... put simply ... is all about fighting. You must always be ready when trouble looms ... because war at sea ... on land ...and in the air are all unforgiving environments.
You have got to be men and women of character and competence ... you were made to be that ... and you do not want to be anything less. Your ROTC programs taught you about the ethical minefields you will face ... but the experiences you have will test what you learned. Never surrender your honor and integrity for expedience ... and take full responsibility for your reaction to adversity.
Remember who raised you ... remember whose footsteps you follow ... and remember the principles you fight for. Life as a leader is tough – but rewarding – work ... enjoy it and embrace it. Sharpen your skills and put it to use when the rubber meets the road.
Leadership at the tip of the spear can feel lonely and daunting ... but remember it is a long spear… one made up of countless millions of Americans who are lifting you up.
Whether you are a pilot in the cockpit ... a soldier on the ground ... or a submariner deep beneath the waves ... when you are called upon, all of America is behind you… from our factories, to our foundries, to our farmers … and our families. In return, you owe it to America to strive to be the best of us… and become an expert at your profession.
Part of that is committing yourself to always learn. Your academic education here is over … but your education in the profession of arms is just beginning. Be an expert … on strategy, tactics, technology, but most of all ... be an expert on your people.
Leadership at its essence comes down to navigating the human terrain. Today, our military represents ... and looks like ... the nation it serves.
We are diverse in many ways … in race, ethnicity, gender, ideology, religion, and identity. Know that there is strength and knowledge to be gained by learning from … and leveraging … our differences. A team that is diverse and led inclusively … will always out-think, out-decide, and out-fight a team that is not. From my four decades of service ... I can tell you that leadership means building unity from that diversity … there’s nothing America can’t do when we are united. Our history proves it.
To lead we must know our teammates ... their strengths ... their challenges ... what motivates them ... and how they process information. This understanding allows you to harness everyone’s potential and turn it into positive momentum. And as your team builds steam ... you will witness the sweetest fruits of leadership … people united in purpose ... working in harmony to accomplish a common goal ... a sacred mission ... all in the service of something much larger than themselves.
Truly knowing your people and leveraging their talents to unite in common cause may be the essence of leadership ... but there is another critical component to leading well. This one is more personal and it will be a lifelong journey.
In ancient Greece ... those wishing to lead a life of happiness and fulfillment would travel from afar to consult with the Oracle of Delphi. For all the wisdom contained in the Temple of Apollo ... the Oracle of Delphi’s best advice was carved into the temple’s arch ... and it could be translated in two words … know thyself.
While this advice seems self-evident ... to know one’s self demands routine reflection and a life-long commitment to having honest, and sometimes hard conversations with one’s self. I say this knowing that all of you are charging into the crucible of leadership where there will be countless tasks to tackle.
Still, to lead others well, you must master yourself first.
Now ... I’ve met a lot of officers through the years … and some, I can say, have been examples we in the Profession of Arms should aspire to emulate. The best officers are genuine ... and contrary to popular belief ... all military officers are human.
They get tired, angry, and frustrated ... and they carry the same range of emotions common to all people. Most leaders periodically display them ... I do from time to time.
The leaders I’ve most admired were certainly human … but they knew themselves. They took the time to reflect, self-assess, and self-correct ... and they constantly strove to be the best versions of themselves. They were masters of their emotions ... and thus captains of their fate.
So remember ... to lead well ... genuinely know your people ... and always know yourself.
As the world continues to change at a break-neck pace … fundamental to the defense of our Nation will be your steadfast commitment to protecting truth. Part of our job ... as officers leading an all-volunteer force on behalf of a free and open society ... is protecting truth ... and preserving trust.
As stewards of our Republic ... your role is not to play politics, but to tell the truth ... even when it hurts ... even to those appointed over you ... and to cultivate an environment where honesty and integrity are not just our stated common values ... but common practice.
Speak up when you see injustice ... no matter how small or seemingly insignificant. As an officer ... the standard you walk past becomes the standard you accept. And speak up when your leadership is going the wrong way. You may feel that you have a lot to learn ... and you do when it comes to mastering your craft, fighting your weapon system, driving your ship, and flying your aircraft.
But having proven worthy of this commission ... you know what right looks like ... and the responsibility to speak truth to power falls on your shoulders.
In a few moments … you’ll take an oath to support and defend the Constitution. This Oath is to an idea… not to a king, a dictator… nor a president or a political party. It is a moral undertaking ... and it commits you to the unbreakable code of America’s Armed Forces.
Our military remains the most trusted government institution as a result of the warriors that have gone before us in upholding their oaths ... again, this is an oath to the law of the land ... not a single person. Do not take that trust for granted ... we must preserve that trust ... and rise to the occasion to serve all Americans.
As an officer ... you are trusted with serving, protecting, and leading the American people’s most beloved treasure … our sons and daughters.
Each of you have proven worthy of this undertaking ... and without a doubt ... you’re ready to join the most dominant military force the world has ever known.
Congratulations on this exciting milestone ... I’m proud of each and every one of you … and I look forward to seeing the impressive things you will do in defense of our nation ... our interests ... and our values.
God bless you all ... and god speed.
Adm. Mike Gilday
20 May 2022
23 May 2022
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