May 06 2008

Senator Graham Delivers S.C. Corps of Cadets Commencement Address at the Citadel

As far as I can tell, I am the only thing between you and your degree… In 1492, Columbus…  No, we’ll keep it short.

What a great story from the class president… You know what happened to those monkeys? [Reference to story in senior class president’s speech about monkeys.] Three of them went to Congress… to carry on the tradition of doing things without a purpose. And being an Air Force guy, the other guys went with the Navy.

How many people do we have from out of state?

Whoohoo. Henry [Congressman Henry E. Brown, U.S. Representative], we showed up in the wrong place. We are up for re-election this year.

Welcome. Enjoy your time. Spend money.

There is a lot of tradition in this place. I tell you, this has been an emotional morning already. I took Senator Strum Thurmond’s place in the Senate. Have anyone ever heard of him? Yes. A round for Strom.

Senator Hollings was my senior senator. He was for 36 years a junior senator of South Carolina. He was the senior senator for two years. That does not sound quite right, but I wanted to acknowledge his service to our country. A Citadel graduate. My first two years in the senate, he was indispensable to me, showing me the ropes. I spent most of my time interpreting for Senator Hollings. People would come up and say, “What did he say?” And these are Democrats. There is something about Karl Rove and the tax cuts that he doesn’t quite like, but I really enjoyed my time in the senate with Senator Hollings. He is a great graduate of the school and I have followed two legends.

Senator Thurmond served in the Senate until he was 100, the longest serving member of the Senate in our nation’s history. He was elected in 1954. I was born in ’55—the job did not come open a lot, so thanks for letting me have it. He was a member of the military. He served in World War II. To our friends in the class of ’44, Strom was there with you. What you don’t know is that Strom was a sitting judge. Judge Chandler [Retired State Supreme Court Justice A. Lee Chandler and a member of the class of 1944], Strom was a Circuit Court Judge in South Carolina when the war started. He was in his 40s. He had to get a waiver to go serve. He called President Roosevelt to call in a favor, I guess. But they allowed him to go. He landed in D-day, June 6, 1944, in a glider. He fought throughout the European Theater and headed to Japan before they surrendered. Pretty impressive. Right? It gets better.

Fifty years later on the 50th anniversary of the D-day landing, they are getting up a group from Congress go to represent America at the D-day landing. Well, who did they ask to lead the delegation? Senator Thurmond. He was the oldest … he was actually there. So, they write him a letter requesting that he lead the American delegation to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the D-day landing. He writes back, “Honored you asked. Can’t go. Got a kid graduating from high school.”

It’s a tough act to follow.

Now when I stop talking here in the minute, you are going to get your degree—the class of 2008—and you are going be able to say when asked, “Where did you go to school?” Well, I am a Citadel graduate.” Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? People will be impressed. People all over this country and all over this world will know what that phrase means. I am a Citadel graduate. It means to the rest of us that you have a value-based education. Duty, honor, country, military discipline, roll around superior academics. People will be impressed.

A couple of challenges to you: As you go out into the world and deal with some of the monkeys that have made it, don’t let the world change the values that The Citadel has instilled in you. Instead, change the world by applying those values. The world is in desperate need of value-based leadership. To those of you who go in business, follow Mr. Cathy’s [honorary degree recipient] motto. I will drive across town to eat at Chick-fil-A. I am trying to get some free coupons—maybe I will keep talking. But, he has made it as a businessman, and he has given a lot more back than he has made, and I am just honored to be up here with all of the honorees. But if you go into business, pursue the common good, not just the bottom line. Our business community needs ethical leadership now more than ever. So, if you start a business, make sure that business not only serves your family but that it serves a greater purpose. If you have a family, instill into your children a sense of purpose, self-confidence. Instill in them the values that you have learned here. If you will do that, you will never have to worry about your kids. To those who go in public service, serve a cause greater than yourself. That is exactly what The Citadel stands for.

At this time of the year when we have commencement speeches, the speaker is supposed to pass on some wisdom. This is the good news. This will be the very short part of my speech. I don’t have a lot. When you make 800 on the SAT, the only job you can really go into is politics. As you can tell, math is not required in my business, to the young men from Taiwan [the First Honor Graduate]. But one thing I have learned, as you travel through life, walk with God—it will make it an easier journey. That is the one thing I have learned. A lot of people out there will want to knock you down, but God will always lift you up and let you do things you didn’t think you could do by yourself.

Another thing I have learned is don’t forget the ones that love you the most. As you pursue economic, political, and military success, as you get focused on this material world that awaits you, don’t forget the ones that love you the most. When I was a junior in college, my mom died. Fifteen months later, my dad died. You never know what is coming your way. You have lost five people in your class. It can be a tough old world out there, and the sky is the limit for you.

You got opportunity that is unlimited but no matter where you go and no matter how much money you make, on your deathbed, you are not going to be thinking about what is in your bank account. You are going to be thinking about those that mean the most to you—your family and your friends. So, the only wisdom I can give you, is no matter where you go, remember those that love you the most.

Now, this degree is something special, but it is just a piece of paper on the wall if it doesn’t help people. Your degree, ladies and gentlemen, needs to be put into action and if it serves a purpose greater than yourself and someone other than you can benefit from it, then it truly is something of value.

To the class of ’44, it doesn’t seem quite fair that after all these years, your reward is you get to hear me speak. Sorry about that. Very few classes have a speaker that was born 11 years after you were supposed to graduate.

To the gentlemen of the class of ’44, you won a war against tyranny, you defeated the Nazis, the imperial Japan. You were called to duty as young men to go fight the world that seemed to have been going crazy at the time. You made us all safe. Without you, there would be no me. There would be no us. You came back home. You built a strong country, raised great families. To the class of ’44, well done.

And to those who did not make it, that is why we are here today. We are here today to honor them. To the class of 2008, let me talk about your war. How many are going on that duty? God bless you. Sixty-four years later, we are talking about a world at war, a global struggle against the fanatical enemy who believes that there is only one way to worship God and that there is only a limited role for a woman. Sound familiar? What did Adolf Hitler believe? What did Tojo believe? There is something about mankind that seems to be eternal, good and bad. Well, your enemy has the same desires as the enemy of 64 years ago. They like to take over the world and make us all follow them. Well, you know what? We’re not. We’re not going to follow them. You are going to do what the class of ’44 did, you are going to stand up to them and you are going to beat them.

This is a different war. In many ways, it is harder for you than it was with these guys. I know that that is an odd thing to say. Because when they went off to war, the country was united. The world was united. Everybody was in the fight. Well, in your global struggle, we don’t have a united view of things, and that’s okay. This is a democracy. The enemy you are fighting doesn’t have a country to conquer. It doesn’t have a Navy to sink or an Air Force to shoot down. They do not wear uniforms but they are just as vicious and brutal as anybody we fought in World War II, and we’ve got to win. You know why we’ve got to win? Because if we lose, America is in trouble. If we lose to these hate filled religious fanatics and let them acquire nuclear weapons or biological or chemical weapons, we will never know peace. Just as the class of ’44 had to beat Adolf Hitler for the good of the world, you have to beat the fanatics of our time for the good of the world in America.

And I can tell you, ladies and gentlemen, after 11 visits to Iraq and numerous visits to Afghanistan, we are in good hands. Your contemporaries, people your age are in the fight now and some of you are soon to follow. Make me proud to be an American. You are all a volunteers. Most of us have not suffered much at all in this war but a few of us wearing the uniform have suffered greatly. I have never been more enthusiastic about being an American as I am now because I have met the best of among those. Those in uniform of your generation, of your age and I find them to be the best among us.

So in closing, I am honored to be here to speak to two classes separated by 64 years, different taste in music and movies probably, connected by timeless values of duty, honor, country. Graduates, soon to be graduates of a school with a history of confronting evil and protecting America. To the class of ’44, you are known as the greatest generation. You earned that title.

To the class of 2008, you are a class of destiny because you are inheriting a world at war, for evil roams the globe and much is at stake. How will it end? It will end in your victory because the way evil has been contained since the beginning of time is for good men and women to meet the challenges of their time. That is the way this war will end. It will be the good men and women of the class of 2008 and your comrade in arms throughout the country that would choose to go to far away places with strange sounding names to confront and defeat the evil that faces us all. It is your destiny to protect America from forces that wish her harm. Just as the class of 1944, you are bound in a tradition and united by challenge. I am honored to speak to you today and I know full well that as with the class of 1944, some of you might not come back.

God bless.