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Tidewater Community College, 47th Commencement, Dec. 19, 2008

Commencement Address by Brig. Gen. Katherine P. Kasun

 

Thank you, Mr. Woodard. Dr. DiCroce, thank you for inviting me.  I am honored to speak here today to the Tidewater Community College class of 2008.

I would like to begin by telling you what stuck with me from those remarks made by my commencement speaker some years ago... *Uh….hmmmm…that’s it!  Absolutely…Nothing!*

So, hopefully I will not put any of you to sleep with my commentary, but maybe, just maybe, I can share some things from my “kit bag” of life experiences that you may be able to apply to your own lives as you embark on the new paths you will soon travel. And, maybe, some of you will actually remember something of what I spoke about! 

I suppose I should mention to you why you are looking at an Army General up here on this podium. I feel a special debt to this institution…because I know that it takes care of our Service members so well…and your faculty and staff are so closely tied to the military. The chance that you have a relationship with the military in some fashion is pretty high. I see quite a presence here…if you haven’t noticed. Many haircuts in accordance with Military Uniform Regulations in this audience…and I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t mention last week’s football game…thank you very much!

I’m going to share with you two brief anecdotes, and then I’m going to leave you with a lesson learned…

The first anecdote:

Education is a lifelong process – the world around us presents us with unlimited avenues for learning new things.  We often learn through simple living even though we may not realize it. At other times, we consciously choose to educate ourselves in a given curriculum or course of study, which you all have done.

On this day, celebrating the achievement of your particular educational goals, there is much for you to be proud of; the attainment of your degree is an end to a specific objective. But you could also look on it as another beginning, the opening of new doorways to your future.

Some of you will continue on with your education, some will not, but, regardless of your choices, remember that life is about moving forward.  It’s always a good idea to be in some sort of forward motion…but especially when it comes to your education, in whatever form you choose. In the marketplace of life, especially when seeking employment, every credit hour earned enhances your marketability and credibility.

The school that I command, the Joint Forces Staff College, is a pretty good example of what continuing education looks like in the military. We have Majors and Commanders that HAVE to come through the courses here to progress in their careers; AND they are right alongside Colonels and Navy Captains…meaning men and women that are anywhere from 33-50 years old…men and women that most people would recognize as successful military officers. These folks are mandated by Congress to come through my school to get promoted and serve in Joint positions. Congress was smart enough to mandate continuing education throughout our professional military ranks. You can get promoted faster in the military when you acquire further education…that’s also true for other employment opportunities. The difference is that I can order it:  “Ready! Study!”

How does that relate to you and Tidewater Community College? You have essentially signed up, volunteered to better yourself.  You’ve made a clear statement: that you are ready for more responsibility and contribution to society…and no one ORDERED you to do it. Through your personal choices and perseverance, you have demonstrated that you are committed and that you are capable. For while you may have had doubts along the way; not been sure of your path at times; or had seemingly insurmountable hurdles thrown at you; you endured and persevered and it brought you here today sitting here before me. The road ahead may not have been clear, but you made it through!

My second anecdote concerns a person you all know of, unless you’ve been living under a rock your entire life; but you may not be aware of some of the stumbling blocks he encountered on his journey.

See if you can guess who I am talking about: He failed in business in 1831. He was defeated for state legislator in 1832. He tried another business in 1833: it failed. His fiancé died in 1835. He had a nervous breakdown in 1836. In 1843 he ran for Congress and was defeated. He tried again in 1848 and was defeated again. He tried running for the Senate in 1855. He lost. The next year he ran for Vice President and lost. In 1859 he ran for the Senate again and was defeated.

Okay now, any guesses? Who do you think this was? What famous person could this be?

DRUM ROLL, PLEASE…..

Right!! In 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected the 16th President of the United States – and his accomplishments in office remain legendary. The moral of this story is that Man’s BOLDEST accomplishments are defined by perseverance. Don’t ever give up! The human spirit is amazingly powerful, especially in the most challenging circumstances.

And now, a take-away lesson learned from one of life’s many experiences. Through reading and education, we can bridge cultural gaps which so often seek to divide us.

There are those of us who focus on our cultural differences to a large extent; and then there are those of us who embrace cultural diversity which adds to the overall richness of our shared experiences.

I like to consider myself in the group of those embracing diversity and saying, “Bring it all here!”  Regardless of how we look, dress, walk, or talk, we are all members of the human race.  By the way, this thinking did not happen overnight for me…I learned it through many experiences.

Here is something for you to ponder: If we were to awake tomorrow morning to see the news on CNN describing a descent to Earth by alien beings in unbelievable spacecraft, we would very quickly forget our ‘differences,’ and the game would immediately become one of us; the Earth human versus, ‘them.’  (Why do we always have to have a ‘them’?) Would we welcome them warmly, or would we shoot something at them in short order?

Think about it: Why should we wait for that day to let the many perceived differences between us evaporate and instead focus on the things that bind us together as human beings? Why not learn NOW to accept people as they are and work to understand their cultural differences?  It’s called acceptance and respect.

Look around you…in this simple action, see the grandness and richness in the many varieties and manifestations of our diverse and culturally rich world. Embrace one another and keep your minds open to the possibilities.  We have a saying in the military…a mind is like a parachute…it only works when it’s open.

The last thing I wanted to say is a special thank you to the parents. I know not all of you are young here in the audience, but still, somewhere along the line your parents inspired, supported, or encouraged you to continue your education. If it wasn’t your parents that cajoled you or set the example for you, you probably have a mentor out there somewhere who is proud of you for your achievement – and they deserve your thanks.  I ask that we all recognize those who support all of us, because none of us could do it alone.

Thank you very much and Congratulations, Class of 2008!

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