When I graduated from Dickinson College last year, then commander of NATO International Security Assistance Force and U.S Forces-Afghanistan General David Petraeus was suppose to address my graduating class, but was unable to attend due to the nature of his position. While I was disappointed at the time, I was delighted to hear that he was scheduled again to address Dickinson’s graduating class of 2012 whose commencement was last Sunday in good ole’ Carlisle, Pa. CIA Director David Petraeus has a deep connection with his wife Holly ’77 and his daughter Anne ’04 themselves being former Red Devils.
On a beautiful day last Sunday, Mr. Petraeus began his address a comical anecdote detailing a young student who gave a report on Julius Caesar who said that he fought and won some great battles, gave a long speech, and was killed. The story drew laughter from the crowd and Director Petraeus stated he would try to avoid the same fate as the late Roman dictator. He gave his praise of the accomplishments of the other distinguished guests and President of Dickinson College, William Durden, for the invitation and the work he has done to enhance the institution’s academic achievement and defining the principles of a global education and a liberal arts education. As a result, community service, active citizenship, and activism has flourished, which Petraeus noted, are critical cornerstones in American society. As President Durden prepares to retire next year, the CIA Director wished him well in his future endeavors. Before diving into the main part of his address, Mr. Petraeus did something that rarely happens at commencement addresses, or at least the ones I’ve attended, he thanked the class of 2012’s parents for their commitment to higher education.
An aspect of American education that Mr. Petraeus feels is critical in the evolution of ideas to solve the complex problems facing our country. He primarily focused on the field of public service and reiterated the notion that service doesn’t have to be concentrated on the military. In his thirty-seven year military career, he stated that “progress can only be achieved by committed selfless individuals working across in a wide range of disciplines through a comprehensive, often civil military approach.” In fact, he stated that rarely are problems solved with a single approach and it usually takes a collective effort to resolve a specific issue.
Mr. Petraeus was very direct in stating that this form of work will be difficult and may lend itself to difficult situations, but that should not deter any Red Devil from surrendering on the task at hand. He reiterated his almost impossible mission to bring stability and peace in Iraq during the 2007 Surge that was also, as he stated, a “surge of ideas on the conduct of counter insurgency operations.” With well over 200 attacks a day during the height of the violence in the country, he said he would dwell on a story concerning General Grant and General Sherman after the first bloody day during the Battle Of Shiloh. That evening General Sherman looked at his commanding officer and said “well Grant, we’ve had the devil’s own day haven’t we.” “Yep” Grant replied and as he took a soggy cigar out of his mouth said “lick ’em tomorrow though.”
He stated that those same principles of Grant,relentlessness, courage, and innovation, were channeled by himself and his troops to complete the mission successfully. In all,when it comes to overcoming obstacles, our men and women in uniform have shown that sheer hard work is essential for success. However, it is only as good as the effort you put into it. Mr. Petraeus urged all the graduates to become experts their respective fields, to be voracious readers, and always “to thirst for more knowledge and more understanding.” In all, he urged the graduates to channel the principles of their education and wished them well in their efforts and looked forward to their leadership in solving the problems facing America at home and abroad.