This speech was given on Saturday, June 2, 2018 on the occasion of the dedication of The Last Cadet statue erected in front of Quintard Hall, the former site of Sewanee Military Academy.
Good afternoon, and thank you Batson, Dr. McCardell, Dr. Baird, and members of the Last Cadet Committee, SMA graduates, family, and friends. I want to add my welcome to all of you on behalf of the faculty, staff, and students at SAS.
I'll begin by telling you a quick story:
A Company Commander and a First Sergeant were in the field, and as they hit the sack for the night, the First Sergeant said, "Sir, look up into the sky and tell me what you see?"
The Company Commander said, "I see millions of stars."
The First Sergeant replied, "And what does that tell you, sir?"
"Astronomically, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Theologically, it tells me that God is great and that we are small and insignificant. Meteorologically, it tells me that we're going to have a beautiful day tomorrow. What does it tell you, Top?"
T o which the First Sergeant replied, "Well sir, it tells me that somebody stole our tent."
Being a first class private during my own military school days, I always liked that joke. But I tell it today because it is important to remember that sometimes the answer to the question is not always that complicated.
Two years ago, during Alumni Weekend, Artie Manning and several of the guys from the class of '66 pitched the idea of this statue to me. And, they asked if I could get behind it. The answer was simple, of course, I can. The truth is, I had not even officially started as the new Head at SAS, so I wasn't completely sure of what I was being asked to weigh-in on. But I had had a lot of conversations with the folks in the development office, as well as with members of the Board by that time, so I had a pretty good idea of the history I was walking into. And as a graduate of the Virginia Military Institute, I knew how important the SMA experience was to those who had gone through it. I knew why Artie and the guys wanted to do this.
I understand the unique bonds of friendship that are forged in schools like ours, but I also understand that it's sometimes hard to explain to those who have not experienced military school. There is just something about the blending of discipline, academic rigor, leadership training...and a certain amount of shared suffering...that has a way of forging a depth of camaraderie that is difficult to replicate. I chose to come to St. Andrew's-Sewanee, in part, because it is a school that is willing to embrace that history, a school where helping our former cadets preserve those connections to one another and to their shared history has been a priority even while we continue the mission of raising new generations of leaders who are prepared to serve God and one another.
We don't just embrace SMA as a memory. The most critical parts of our school's heritage, as it exists today, come straight from our SMA DNA. The pursuit of academic excellence, the importance of moral and social responsibility, and - most of all - the adherence to a code of honor that frames everything we say and do.
Over the past two years, it's become clearer and clearer to me why this statue, and the members of the SMA Corps of Cadets, will always be central to the mission of SAS. The leadership and support that so many here today have provided us over these past 37 years, and continue to provide, is what makes it possible for that heritage to continue. And, I thank you for that.
If I may, I'd like to finish with the words of the current superintendent of my alma mater...the Virginia Military Institute.
A few weeks ago, VMI superintendent, Gen. J.H. Binford Peay III, addressed the graduating class of 2018, and I could not help but think about the SMA of yesterday and the SAS of tomorrow when he spoke the following words:
(Ours) is a forward-looking institution, dedicated to producing intelligent and useful citizens, but it is also steeped in history and tradition. We march into the future, but we are ever mindful of the rich legacy of our past. There will be important remnants of this life you have lived that will follow you into the future. Some quite serious, like a reputation for honor, persistence, dependability..., and some a little humorous or quirky, as when you explain in the future to your children why you arrange your books on a bookshelf by height or why you hang your clothes in order of color or length. There is probably more of (this great school) that has rubbed off on you than you realize. So, as you depart the Institute today and begin your new careers: work hard in fulfilling your dreams; be creative; master the art of listening; appreciate the many sides of life; be civil and grow in wisdom. Provide the best of leadership for your family, your community and our nation...hold onto the concept of honor – the very bedrock -– of our school. People will hold you to a higher standard because you are a graduate of this great institution. This high expectation cannot be avoided...; it comes with the ring and with the diploma. Embrace it as the heritage that has now been passed on to you and strive always to preserve and enhance it.
I am quite certain that similar words could easily have been spoken at your commencement decades ago, and they probably were. My job today is to let you know that these same words would have resonated at the SAS commencement ceremony just two weeks ago. And, they will resonate next year, and the year after that, and for the next 150 years.
The pursuit of academic excellence, the importance of moral and social responsibility, and the adherence to a code of honor is your legacy, and we promise to guard it well.
Thank you, and God bless.