Grads Get Lesson In Leadership

by Katy Grimes | June 1, 2011 8:35 am

[1]JUNE 1, 2011

Last Friday, after four years of intense university studies and military training, I watched as my son graduated from the United States Naval Academy and received his commission in the U.S. Navy.

As the 1,006 Midshipmen tossed their old hats high into the air after “hip, hip, hooray” was proclaimed, the nearly 30,000 friends and families who attended the graduation ceremony ran onto the field to congratulate their graduates.

The commencement speaker this year was Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who retires in June. Gates’ message to the graduates was powerful, as he reminded them that they were chosen to become leaders.

“As you start your careers as leaders today, I would like to offer some brief thoughts on those qualities. For starters, great leaders must have vision — the ability to get your eyes off your shoelaces at every level of rank and responsibility and see beyond the day-to-day tasks and problems,” Gates said. “True leadership is a fire in the mind that transforms all who feel its warmth, that transfixes all who see its shining light in the eyes of a man or woman.”

Gates took an interesting turn in his speech when he spoke of successful and intelligent people who stray from integrity, and mock honor and character as “a kind of quaint, a curious, old-fashioned notion.”

Gates stressed to the graduates that leadership is more than physical courage, and includes moral courage, integrity, personal virtue, self-reliance, self-control, honor and truthfulness.

Interestingly, Gates acknowledged that the class of 2011 chose the Naval Academy in post-9/11 America, and at a time when the wars with Iraq and Afghanistan were most dangerous — “when casualties were at their highest and prospects for success were uncertain, at best.”

[2]Founded in 1845, the Naval Academy, the second-oldest of the United States’ five service academies, educates and trains officers for commissioning into the United States Navy and Marine Corps. Naval Academy students are on full scholarship and are considered officers-in-training. The four-year education is fully funded by the Navy in exchange for an active duty Navy or Marine service obligation upon graduation. When most new high school graduates are enjoying summer, 1,300 new “plebes” move far away from home to the Academy in Annapolis each summer for what is known as “Plebe Summer” (Naval Academy boot camp). Approximately 1,000 Midshipmen will graduate four years later.

It’s not an easy four years either. During year one, known as “Plebe year,” Midshipmen find themselves with few privileges and free time only during the daytime on Saturdays. Eventually, commensurate with annual promotions to upper-class status, Midshipmen are allowed more freedoms and privileges including napping, television and weekends away from the academy.

While they must pledge to serve five years in the Navy or Marines after graduation, the formal signing commitment is made at the end of their second-class year. If a Midshipman quits or is expelled, he or she must pay back $150,000 to the Navy as reimbursement for the cost of the education received up to that point.

In Friday’s speech, Gates compared America’s current war efforts with four years ago, when he spoke at the Naval Academy commissioning ceremony in 2007. As the Class of 2011 was about to enter as plebes, Gates said that the Taliban were making a comeback in Afghanistan, and things in Iraq were not going well.

“I am proud to say that we face a different set of circumstances today: Iraq has a real chance at a peaceful and democratic future; in Afghanistan, the Taliban momentum has been halted and reversed; and Osama bin Laden is finally where he belongs,” Gates said to the cheering Midshipmen.

“Above all,” Gates said, “remember that the true measure of leadership is not how you react in times of peace or times without peril…. The true measure of leadership is how you react when the wind leaves your sails, when the tide turns against you.”

[3]For the families of the most recent Naval Academy graduates, the Academy’s motto “Ex Scientia Tridens,” which means “Through Knowledge, Sea Power,” is every bit as important as “Honor, Courage and Commitment,” which our children have promised, as they embark on service to something greater than themselves.

The families of the United States Naval Academy class of 2011 must believe in the training the Midshipmen received, as challenging times are ahead for America.

Katy Grimes

MAY 31, 2011


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