In all of recorded history mankind has marked important occasions with a meal - to bring together all the parties to a treaty or a deal, to seal a victory, to confirm a vow. So it is fitting that we gather here tonight, the Classes of 2013 and 1963, to express our combined joy and our deep satisfaction with the commitment of the United States Naval Academy Class of 2013 to this Academy, to your final two years here, and especially to the military service of our nation .
Commitment is more than a display of interest. It carries with it the notions of importance, of future, and of challenge in the face of the unknown. In committing we promise to act, to recognize and accept obligations, and to persevere. Thomas Watson the legendary leader of IBM once said, "The most important single factor in individual success is COMMITMENT. Commitment ignites action." One of America's more famous novelists, tom Robbins characterized it this way," There is a difference between interest and commitment. When you are interested in doing something you do it only when circumstances permit. When you are committed to something you accept no excuses only results."
This evening also serves to emphasize that your class and ours are linked by common experience, common values, and common ethics even though we are fifty years apart. The class in our position when we were in yours was the Class of 1913, one hundred years ago. Their members were senior officers in World War II. In his book, Neptune's Inferno, James Hornfischer describes Captain Lawrance DuBose, Commanding Officer of the cruiser USS Portland when it was engaged in the heavy sea battles near Guadalcanal. As president of the Class of 1913 he valued the number 13 as a sign of good fortune not bad luck and in his ship the crew always looked for events and happenings in which 13 played a part. A major surface action took place on the night of November 13, 1942, and while much of the task force was skittish about the date, in the USS Portland it was a morale booster. Perhaps your class will be viewed as 'Lucky 13' or 'Gifted 13' but, I pray, will not have to endure a WW II-like experience to earn the title.
This evening you are living the motto engraved over the Chapel doors, "Non sibi sed patriae", nominally translated as "Not for self but for Country." You have freely chosen to accept the Honor concept as a foundation of your actions and to serve here and in the 'fleet' for five years following your graduation. My classmates and I are delighted that you have so chosen. We chose as you did fifty years ago and I will stick my neck out to say not one of us has regretted our choice. I hope further that many of you will choose to make the naval service your life as I made it mine.
Like any serious commitment the euphoria of tonight and this splendid feast will fade and it will not lead automatically to a successful fulfillment of your commitment. There will be hard work ahead, some nail-biting experiences (later to be sea stories) and even a few (and I hope very few) trials causing you to doubt the wisdom or even the sanity of your commitment. We have all experienced those. Your years here, your summer cruise experiences and your service in the fleet will prepare you well to wrestle with every challenge successfully, bolster your commitment and arm you against every adversity. Plebe Year and subsequent challenges here at USNA teach you how to work your way through problems to successful solutions. At sea this will be a valued skill because you will not have an opportunity to walk away from the problem or seek out extra instruction ashore.
To my mind it is the set of values you acquire here that will serve you well as you learn and practice the arts of leadership in what will certainly be adventurous and challenging lives. Look around you for leaders. Who are they, the really good ones, and how do you know that? You DO know them. They deal straight with everyone. They are forthright, honest and sincere. You can trust these men and women and you know already that they have the moral courage to stick up for you if events don't play out well just as you would do for them. As you progress and leadership opportunities arise, emulate the good leaders you find around you. Strive to express those central values of our Academy and of our chosen profession, among them honor, courage, commitment, trustworthiness, honesty and loyalty. Leadership is an art you would do well to nurture. One you must develop if you are to fulfill your commitment successfully.
There is more. You must master your craft. Your seniors and your juniors trust a leader who," Knows his/or her stuff." It is only in this mastery that you can develop the necessary courage and confidence to understand your responsibilities and accept your accountability. (The twenty five foot tower is not confined to the swimming pool.) It is from your store of professional knowledge that you will develop the high standards necessary for success in our naval service and from which your seniors and juniors will develop the trust and confidence in you that will mark you as a leader.
I think that you have learned by now that your individual knowledge, values and personal commitment while essential, must fit into a larger set of knowledge, values and commitment of a team. Here you have Companies, sports teams, and activities which fill these roles. In the fleet your unit or ship and your piece of that unit, a platoon or a division, are teams of which you will be a key member. Part of your leadership and your knowledge must further your team's abilities and color their ethics and values. We can read examples every day where a leader's actions or failures to act have destroyed good teams in business, in military service and, sadly, in war. Your own integrity and that," Nicest sense of personal honor" will underly your contribution to your fleet team. Remember the Laws of the Navy, "On the strength of one link in the cable dependeth the might of the chain, Who knows when thou may'st be tested? So live that thou bearest the strain."
Your choice tonight, your commitment to Naval Service, has many ramifications and will demand that you learn much and reflect on the role of every little bit of that learning in your quest to fulfill your goals. Not everything comes from a classroom. Lessons are to be learned in everything you do. Not all lessons are difficult and many will be satisfying if not enjoyable to one who prizes a commitment to the Naval Service of the United States.
From tonight forward I think you will observe a strengthening in the already-developed bonds among your classmates. Your time at USNA followed by the shared experiences of service in the fleet will draw you closer together as the years march on. I have seen that in our class. In March a fair number of us gathered in San Diego for a 2 _ year reunion choosing not to wait a whole five years. Some companies in our class, my own 8th company among them, gather annually for a friendly catch up and sea story renewal. As Pat Fitzpatrick of the Class of 1961 told the Class of 2011, and he included all of the service academies, you belong to a group of wonderful people who share the, "Danger of everlasting friendship lurking in every casual meeting." Think about that! Now that you are committed it is time to really build the unique personality and class reputation you want. We, the Class of 1963, want you, the Class of 2013, to be the best class ever. You are our legacy just as we are your heritage. We salute you and we welcome you as you forge the next link in the chain.