This Saturday, the members of the Class of 2016 will walk across stage at Michie Stadium to receive their diplomas, take their oath of commissioning and get pinned as second lieutenants and take their place on the Long Gray Line, joining the tens of thousands of men and women before them who graduated from this hallowed institution and served our nation as Army officers.
Fifty years ago, as the Class of 1966 was preparing to graduate, our nation was sending a buildup of troops to South Vietnam. In the minds of those cadets from half-century ago was the understanding that they too, would be sent overseas to lead America’s Soldiers and, in the words of President Reagan, “fight for freedom in a place where liberty was in danger and put their lives in danger to help a people in a land far away from their own.” In fact, of the 579 graduates of the Class of ’66, 98 percent of them would see service in Vietnam. While they understood what awaited them upon graduation, they did not know what history would demand of them.
When this year’s graduating cadets came to West Point four years ago, our nation was still at war. Each of them knew full well they would join an Army at war and be sent into harm’s way. Unlike their brothers in arms from 50 years earlier, today’s graduates will lead in a complex and uncertain operating environment in numerous locations around the globe, although the demands, challenges and dangers they will face are just as great.
But despite the dangers and challenges of an uncertain world, the Class of 2016 chose to come to West Point with the deep desire to serve, to stand for something much larger than themselves. Like those from the past generations, they chose to stand in the gap and protect and defend our nation and our way of life from all that would threaten it.
Like all generations of graduates who have passed through our hallowed gates, we don’t know what history will demand of these new officers. But we do know that they are ready to face whatever challenges await them.
To the Class of 2016 - your West Point experience from Day One has been all about developing you as a leader of character, committed to the values of Duty, Honor, Country and prepared to fight and win our Nation’s wars. We have prepared you intellectually, physically, militarily and ethically. Every hour of training you received here is important and you’ll rely on something you’ve learned here every day.
But above all else, remember that it’s your character that defines you as a leader and a person. Don’t forget the lessons you‘ve learned here, and most importantly, never compromise your character.
To the families and friends of our graduates, thank you for all the support you’ve given our cadets during these past four years, for encouraging them when things got tough, and sharing in their successes.
To the entire West Point Community – accomplishing our mission of educating, training and inspiring the Corps of Cadets is a total team effort. Each of you has, in some way, contributed to the overall success of our graduates. Thank you for all you do every day to make West Point the world’s premiere leader development institution.
Congratulations, Class of 2016 - “With Honor We Lead!” We’re all very proud of you.
Lt. Gen. Robert L. Caslen, Jr.