« Back to selected speeches and commentary

Event honoring graduating military students

May 5, 2016
University Student Commons, Richmond Salons

Thank you, Daphne [Rankin], for that generous introduction. I don’t get to do enough events with you, so I’m pleased that you’re here today. You do great work for so many people at VCU. I’m also so grateful that Bobby Ross, Coach Ross, is here today, and I look forward to his expert advice on leadership. Coach Ross and I actually work out at the YMCA together, and I can tell you that he’s in much better shape than I am!

As Daphne said, I do have to leave early because I’m speaking at another event tonight. I’m sorry about that. But I did want to be here with you all to honor you, because I think this is an important event, and because I think all of you add so much to VCU.

We ask all of our people to be leaders, whether they’re faculty, staff, students or alumni. You certainly embody that ideal and make that commitment. That’s true for our university, but it’s also true for a world that so desperately needs you to be a leader.

We live in a nation that was built by brave women and men who have committed their lives to the greater good. Sometimes, that has come at great sacrifice. Our university — your alma mater — was founded on the same principle. We stand firm to the ideal that what we achieve here through education, research, clinical care and community service ought to benefit people everywhere. And the reason we can do this is because generations of veterans like you have given us a society where we’re free to think, to create, to innovate and to engage. Even to disagree with one another, because that’s how we learn, right? We live in a society where differences are embraced, not obscured. And where new ideas advance us, not threaten us. America’s research universities, including VCU, are the best in world because we have the freedoms to be the best in the world, and that’s thanks to you.

Like you, our university has been shaped by its commitment to serving the nation of which we’re a part. During the American Civil War, what was then called MCV — now part of VCU — educated military surgeons, cared for sick and injured soldiers, and we were the only medical school in the South to stay open during the war. During the First World War, all of the medical personnel comprising Base Hospital 45 in France were trained at MCV. It was one of most successful military hospitals of World War I, and they saved 98 percent of the 17,000+ casualties they treated.

VCU is still committed to serving those who serve us, in war or peace. We strive to give you an educational experience that allows you to live in the bright future that you fought to protect. So we have invested much in Military Student Services in the last several years, and that began with Stephen Ross 16 months ago. He has been an exemplary leader at VCU.

We have conducted Green Zone training for many of our faculty and staff so that they can be your advocates. We have been diligent in our work to recruit and retain veterans and active-duty students. We commit to education, research and care that benefits military personnel, including my colleague David Cifu’s remarkable research around traumatic brain injuries, the collaborations around logistics and supply chain management between our School of Business and Fort Lee, and the world-class health care that we help provide for veterans, including at the McGuire VA. I am so proud — although certainly not surprised — that we were recently named a Top 100 university for veterans.

At VCU, we now have more than 400 students, and 200 faculty and staff who are veterans, and I’d like to see that number grow. That’s because you are an important part of the diversity of our community, and there is so much we can learn from you.

Thank you for the lessons you teach us. Thank you for being here today. And thank you for your service to our university and our nation.

Congratulations on your graduation.