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Valedictory Remarks by Rebecca Buchheit

Diplomas 2014 444x718The remarks below were delivered by Rebecca Buchheit, Valedictorian of the Class of 2014, at The Institute of World Politics Commencement ceremony on May 17, 2014.

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, Dr. Lenczowski, Professor Tsagronis, Professor deGraffenreid, The Honorable Robert McFarlane, General Edward Rowny, members of the board, to all our distinguished guests, our families, friends and finally to my fellow graduates of the class of 2014 — Welcome!

First and foremost, I want to thank a few people in particular. To Dr. Lenczowski who over 20 years ago had a vision and the inspiration to found this Institute — that would become for many of us a second home.  I also want to thank all my professors both at IWP and those before that first introduced me to this Institute.  I want to recognize and thank those that could not be with us today — especially the late Ambassador Thomas Melady.  Ambassador Melady was not only one of my first mentors in DC but also a true inspiration to all who met him.  Finally, I would like to thank my family and friends for their love and support.  In particular, I want to thank my parents, my older sister, Caitlin, and all my younger siblings who put up with me these past two years — I couldn’t have done it without you.

To my fellow graduates, we did it.  For some of us it took 2 years, others 4, but no matter how long you have walked the halls of the Marlatt Mansion, that time is drawing to a close.  Each of us came to IWP from different backgrounds.  Some were fresh out of undergrad, others were senior military officers, some had worked for several years but decided to go back to school for one reason or another.  Despite these differences, there was something that drew us all to IWP.  We’ve all heard many times that Institute is unique.  There are few schools where you will spend an entire class period discussing the ethical and moral implications of human intelligence operations or where it’s normal to hear how someone’s “light” summer reading is Matthew Levitt’s new book on Hezbollah.  But IWP is also a place where leadership, responsibility, and patriotism, are key.  A place where we study the Western Moral Tradition so we can understand the principles upon which America was founded and thus defend her to the best of our ability. 

It is with this in mind, my fellow graduates, that today I wish to leave you with three things.

First, strive to be a virtuous leader.  Last night, two of our Army War Fellows spoke on leadership.  I want to echo those words and challenge every one of you to become a true leader.  So often we think of leadership as this amalgam of ambition, cunning, know-how, access to money or simply being at the right place at the right time.  Sure, these are things that a leader may use to his or her advantage, but they do not begin to get at the essence of leadership.  One author said: “leadership is character.” And if virtue is the core of character than, we must strive for magnanimity, humility, prudence, self-control and justice and at the same time flee the temptation to that most dangerous of vices, hubris. 

Many IWP students are currently in public service or will be, which brings me to my next point.  A vital component of being a leader is being a servant.  With so many current and former members of the military attending IWP, this is already a way of life for many.  I’ll never forget walking into one of my classes second semester — there were 12 of us in the class and 10 out of the twelve were former or current members of the Armed Forces.  To those that have served or are currently serving, thank you.  And to those that will, let us remember that a true leader is also a true servant. 

At the same time, a true leader possesses the virtue of magnanimity.  He strives for greatness.  While humility is living in the truth about one’s strengths and weaknesses, magnanimity is rooted in a firm confidence in the highest possibilities of human nature.  My fellow graduates, we have completed graduate school, a feat in and of itself but now we return to the world.  Where we cannot simply theorize about what to do if and when Iran has nuclear weapons, where a paper on counterinsurgency in Afghanistan is not just receiving a grade but can actually have tremendous impact on the lives of men and women on the battlefield.  Always step back and realize the responsibility and gravity of your position no matter where you are – and strive for excellence in all that you do. 

IWP has prepared us well.  Let us never forget what we’ve learned here.  Let us strive to be true leaders.  Not the elites who stand back and watch as others fight the battles but instead be the ones in the thick of the fight.  To be those men and women who, as Theodore Roosevelt once said, are “actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

My fellow graduates, let us strive to be true leaders, true statesmen — let us be those men and women committed to a cause greater than themselves.

Rebecca Buchheit
Valedictorian, Class of 2014