General Ray Odierno Addresses NC State University Graduates (12.18.10)

Uploaded by NCState on 21.12.2010

General Odierno, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Board of Trustees, and
with a great deal of pride, I hearby confer upon you the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters
honoris causa. Congratulations. We're very proud. General Odierno, you honor us with
your presence here today and we look forward to your remarks. Ladies and gentlemen, Doctor
General Raymond T. Odierno.
Chancellor Woodson, distinguished honorees, thank you for that kind introduction and I
got a little tired listening to that, so I'm sure everyone else out in the audience did
as well. Distinguished faculty members, fellow honorees, alumni, guests and graduates of
the North Carolina State University Class of 2010 - good morning. It is clearly a d
great day of celebration for all of you, and therefore, it is an honor to join you today
on this very special occasion. I do just want to take one minute to recognize the men and
women seated in front who are recently commissioned into the United States Armed Forces. I’m
very proud of you and wish you nothing but the best in your careers. I’ve been looking
forward to this day for twenty-four years. I was officially a December graduate if NC
State, but the Army had other plans for me so I was not able to attend my graduation
ceremony from this great university. But, my focus today is to honor YOU, our graduates.
I want to congratulate each and every one of you on your outstanding accomplishment.
I know it required discipline, dedication, and hard work. But I’m not going to simply
congratulate you. I want to challenge you. Because when you walk out of this auditorium
today you will do so not only with a new credential on your resume, but with a new responsibility.
As degree holders, you are in a minority of Americans that has a better chance of gaining
employment and enjoying the other fruits of citizenship. Many of you rightly feel an additional
responsibility to live up to the very high expectations of your parents, family and friends
who supported you through your time in school. But all of you have a responsibility to help
shape the future, whether it is through Agriculture and Life Science, or Textiles; Design and
Engineering, or Veterinary Medicine and Natural Resources; Physics, or Business Management
and Social Science. I want to encourage all of you to rise to those responsibilities.
Quite frankly, you face a daunting task. Several obstacles exist today. Our nation is enduring
a serious financial crisis, with life-changing implications for many Americans and millions
of others around globe. Additionally, even larger-scale challenges abound, such as climate
change, for which this very university will become a key hub for scientific study of this
problem. We continue to face international terrorism requiring many Americans to be deployed
around the world in its defense. The past few years have led some to despair that America
has seen its best days, that the future will inevitably be more grim, that the prosperity
we have enjoyed is a thing of the past. I’m here today to tell you that I reject those
views. Certainly, the prosperity of our nation is not a given; it is not something to which
we are automatically entitled. It has been built over generations through creativity,
hard work, sacrifice, and service. It has been built by common men and women who, even
in our darkest hour, devoted themselves heroically – selflessly – to the belief that the
cause of our nation and betterment of our society are greater than individual ambition
and wealth. And this brand of hero is NOT a thing of the past. I have had the honor
of serving with hundreds of thousands of amazing young people and I know that this generation
– YOUR generation – is special. You are the reason I have hope. You – all of you
out there – are the source of my optimism. We all must decide how we will serve, whether
in our local community, for a particular cause or in service to our nation. I want to talk
about one example. Staff Sergeant Salvatore Giunta, from Cedar Rapids, Iowa – a high
school graduate from a humble background – chose to serve in our Army. On October
25, 2007, he found himself in a difficult situation. On a cold, moonlit night in the
rugged mountains of Afghanistan, thousands of miles away from his family, he was leading
a patrol with his fellow troopers, working tirelessly to secure the Afghan population.
His platoon was ambushed at such close range that the enemy muzzle flashes and reports
came simultaneous with the impact of bullets and rocket propelled grenades. Though virtually
encircled and exposed to withering fire, Staff Sergeant Giunta raced forward to the aide
of several fallen Soldiers. Struck by enemy rounds, he returned fire and threw grenades
close to his own position in order to provide cover for his team. Realizing that one of
his team mates was missing, he advanced forward toward the enemy line on his own initiative,
discovering two insurgents carrying away an American Soldier. He engaged the enemy with
lethal precision and rescued his wounded comrade and friend, administering medical aide and
rallying his platoon to provide security. Last month, President Obama awarded Staff
Sergeant Giunta the Medal of Honor, our nation’s highest military decoration. But what is remarkable
about Staff Sergeant Giunta is how he perceives his actions, he said: “In this job…I’m
average. By no means did I do anything that everyone else wouldn’t have done.” If
that’s average, then our nation is in very good hands. It’s selfless men and women
like Staff Sergeant Giunta – who prevail in times of unanticipated adversity because
of their dedication to a cause greater than themselves – men and women like Staff Sergeant
Giunta who make a difference. He made a real difference that day. Today, you are entering
a world full of opportunity, in many cases opportunity borne of the same challenges which
so many people lament as our downfall. Clashes of culture offer the opportunity for greater
awareness between people. Geopolitical and natural resource challenges offer the opportunity
for alternative energy development. Global economic competition requires us to be innovative.
America’s real power comes not from its wealth – but rather from its values. The
future of our nation depends on leaders of character who are committed to living lives
of integrity, honor, and justice. Leaders devoted to the service of others; leaders
who expect more of themselves and those around them. Leaders like: Chuck Gardner, Wolfpack
class of ’83, whose family experience with autism inspired him to spearhead the establishment
of the University of California’s Medical Investigation into Neurological Disorders
Institute. Chuck’s response to a personal challenge has led to improvements for thousands
of others with autistic family members. Leaders such as “Doc” Hendley, a 2004 NC State
graduate, who founded the organization “Wine to Water,” dedicated to providing safe drinking
water to people in developing countries. In Doc’s words: “I had no idea if it was
going to be a success and I certainly had no idea how to start or run an organization.
All I knew was that 1.1 billion people around the world didn’t have clean drinking water
and that dirty water kills more children than anything else.” I have found that only when
we commit to a cause greater than ourselves can we realize our full potential as human
beings. I believe that our greatest pleasures in life come not from professional achievements
or material wealth, but from people working and sacrificing together to achieve something
special – the warm smile of a stranger we’ve paused to help; the gratitude of an employee
we’ve assisted through a difficult time; the satisfaction of helping a child to believe
in himself or herself; the look of a young soldier who knows he has overcome tremendous
obstacles to achieve success. Those are the memories that last; that is what brings true
happiness. Service is not about what career path you choose to pursue, it’s about how
you choose to live and the values you represent. Staff Sergeant Giunta is not a hero because
he chose to join the Army. He’s a hero because he chose, day in and day out, to put the well-being
of others before his own. He made that choice when no one was watching and when fate placed
him in the most extraordinary of circumstances. We have little control over the circumstances
in which we may find ourselves someday. I pray that no one in this auditorium ever faces
a situation like Staff Sergeant Giunta faced in Afghanistan. But we all face choices each
day about how we want to live and what we want to value. And in those choices – big
and small – we have the chance to serve others. Selflessly. The famous parable of
the talents is one of my favorites: “Of those to whom much is given, much is expected.”
But as much as I like this parable, I want to close this morning by turning it around
and propose instead that: “To those who expect much of themselves, much will be given.”
Staff Sergeant Giunta expects a lot of himself. So do Chuck Gardner and Doc Hendley. And I
urge you all to do the same, wherever life happens to take you. Dedicate yourselves to
serving others, to never forgetting that you are an important part of something larger,
something greater than any individual. You will be rewarded in ways you cannot imagine,
and our world will be much better for it. I want to leave you with one final piece of
wisdom from American writer and educator William Arthur Ward, who said: “Greatness is not
found in possessions, power, position, or prestige. It is discovered in goodness, humility,
service, and character.” Congratulations, class of 2010. I wish you the very best. As
you move forward in your lives, making us all bigger and better. Thank you very much
and God bless.