Good afternoon and welcome, esteemed faculty and guests. President Lenczowski, Chairman Smith, Interim Dean Glancy, Professor Tsagronis, members of our Board of Trustees, family and friends, and of course fellow graduates: it is a great honor and privilege to address you today, and to take part in celebrating the achievements of the Class of 2015.
On behalf of this year’s graduates, I would like to thank our distinguished guest, Professor Robert George, for joining us today, as well as the faculty and staff of IWP, each of whom has devoted his and her time, patience, and experience so that we may convene on this occasion. And of course to President Lenczowski, who for twenty-five years has provided an exceptional institution for generations of leaders.
I believe many of our guests in attendance are among those instrumental to the successes of each graduate, providing inspiration and encouragement at every stride, and stumble, along the way. I too have been most fortunate to have supporters whom I deeply admire and respect, and to whom I have the opportunity to express my gratitude in person. To my graduate advisor, who is unable to join us today but who introduced me to IWP, and whose guidance has allowed me to accomplish so much throughout my time there, and to my undergraduate advisor, who has seen me through both degrees, and who first spurred my interest in a career in public service. Thank you — not only for your mentorship, but for your friendship. And to my mother and father, who have championed me in every aspect of my life, and from whose example I learned temperance and fortitude. Thank you for your undying faith and confidence.
Fellow graduates: you have achieved no small feat. You have enhanced each others’ experience in discussion and collaboration within and without the classroom. You have each brought unique perspective and expertise to IWP: Army Fellows, former military, mid-career professionals, recent undergraduates — together you have facilitated an environment of mutual respect and consideration. This is likely made possible in part by the values we share, many of which brought each of us to IWP.
We arrive here as the result of hard work, but also via a common appreciation for basic principles, among which is simply doing what is right. Therefore, I’m rather content that there is little that I can say, about which you do not already know and embody. Instead, the message I wish to convey in parting is a hope that, as you answer your various professional callings, be it in diplomacy, defense, intelligence, or elsewhere, you will not only feel confident in the skills and understanding acquired during your time at IWP, but that the latter ever serves as a reminder of the moral tradition which the Institute upholds and that we too must uphold in our work, our community, and in ourselves.
We commonly understand integrity to be “doing the right thing regardless of whether anyone is looking.” But the scope in which you will be required to act is broad and often undefined: for the policymaker, who in speaking a difficult truth to a leader wagers his career, for the intelligence officer, who must convince others to commit treason, for a military commander, who combats morally asymmetric adversaries whose sole objective is terror. In roles such as these, our determination to act uprightly can be difficult to sustain, especially amid hardship, ambiguity, or simply in the absence of scrutiny.
As lamented by General George Patton decades ago, “Moral courage is the most valuable and usually the most absent characteristic in men.” In pursuing what is right you will frequently find yourself isolated, alone among others who confuse consensus with rectitude. Your choices will be difficult, and your decisions often unpopular. You will confront those without integrity, and those who have possessed and yet abandoned it. As leaders, decision-makers, and advisers, your steadfastness of character will be tested and challenged. You will encounter problems for which there are no theoretical applications and no clearly defined answers. Few dilemmas will have a single path, and all will have consequences.
Ultimately it is each of you who must choose how you will act, and to continuously pursue mastery of yourself. This is the awesome and yet formidable faculty of humankind, that, as put forth by John Locke, “every Man has a property in his own Person. This no-body has any right to but himself.”
Today you graduate from a singular institution, one which has endeavored to prepare you for the realities of leadership. Build upon the accomplishments which we celebrate today. Contemplate your intentions and clarity of action in all that you undertake. Be a pillar of integrity among your peers and community. Be of indomitable moral and intellectual courage.
Class of 2015, congratulations. I hope we will soon meet again as we forge ahead in service of the nation, and of the greater good.
-C.G., Valedictorian of the Class of 2015
The Institute of World Politics Commencement Ceremony
May 16, 2015