Midlands Tech Commencement Address

May 12, 2003
Ladies and gentleman, it is an honor to be with you tonight. President Russell, members of faculty and staff, family and friends of the graduates, distinguished guests, and to the members of the class of 2003; thank you for extending the invitation to address you this evening. Being with friends of Midlands Tech especially means a lot to me because my late predecessor and close friend Congressman Floyd Spence served on the study committee in the State House which developed the technical colleges to provide opportunities for young people and persons beginning over to help create jobs. Many of your instructors have been friends of mine for years and I know their dedication as professional educators. I congratulate all of the parents here tonight. As a parent of four children, I know what a special moment it is when your child graduates from college. It’s a great day for you and it’s an even greater day for your financial well-being. Which today I especially appreciate because my oldest son, Alan, this afternoon was sworn in as a new attorney with the South Carolina Bar. I am so proud of his persistence to overcome adversity, and like all of you today, his hard work has been rewarded. Tonight we gather to honor you, the graduates, for your hard work and determination. The degree you have earned today should serve as a reminder that the good things in life do not come easily. The sacrifices you have made to improve your education have not been in vain, they will now allow you the prospects of a brighter future with many more rewards ahead. When I graduated from college, I can remember the sense of accomplishment, yet also the sense to go out and mark my own path in the world. My generation had grown up in the shadow of our parents, whom were known as the greatest generation for their sacrifice and determination to fight to liberate the world from the fascist tyranny of Adolf Hitler in World War II. I wanted more than anything to live up to the service of my father, who served in the Flying Tigers. His valor and love of his country was an inspiration to me. Then I saw my generation resist Communism in Vietnam and worldwide leading to the collapse and the victory of democracy. One of our honored Vietnam Veterans is here tonight, State Senator Jake Knotts, a graduate of Midlands Tech. However, I believe the greatest generation I have ever seen is the one before me today. As a United States Congressman, I have had the distinct honor to serve on the House Armed Services Committee. One of the truly remarkable privileges I have been afforded through working with the committee, has been to travel throughout the world meeting the young men and women of our Armed Forces. I also continue to serve in the South Carolina Army National Guard, and through thirty years in the military, I am most impressed with the young men and women serving our nation today. These brave people in uniform are the same age as those graduating here today, many of them are from South Carolina and some may be your family and friends. As we are here today, many of them are overseas fighting the War on Terror, fighting to secure a safer future for all of us. We all witnessed the events of September 11, 2001 together. On that fateful day, we saw the worst of humanity strike out in anger and hatred against American civilians. We were left asking, why? Why would anyone want to terrorize America, and I find the answer is simple. For over two hundred years, the United States of America has been the symbol of freedom, liberty and hope in the world. When the Al-Qaeda terrorists murdered over 3,000 innocent American civilians in New York, Pennsylvania and the Pentagon, Osama bin Laden expected America to collapse through weakness. But instead the terrorists united America. By politics, Democrats and Republicans came together; by race, Black and White; and by region; the North, South, East and West of our nation united. We saw pictures of our fellow citizens suffering and dying and this shocked us to respond in a long-term War on Terror. As the Good Book teaches us, there are forces of good and evil among us. This is a constant battle raging since the creation of man. There are men with evil intentions in the world, people who despise the progress that the free people of America have made. Yet we can take comfort in knowing that the outcome to this battle is already determined. Good will triumph over evil, and the compassionate and courageous citizens of the United States will win the War on Terror. Thanks to members of your generation serving in the Armed Forces, we have responded to terror by liberating the people of Afghanistan and Iraq from oppression. We will continue to support these countries as they make the path to free and democratic societies that respect the rights of women and people of all faiths. With the recent Operation Iraqi Freedom, all of America was able to witness the incredible courage, honor, and dedication of young members of our military. The men and women in uniform have chosen to risk their lives in order to protect the American people and our way of life. We all remember the images of the rescue of Private First Class Jessica Lynch, and the great pride we felt for her service and for the troops that rescued her. What many of you may not remember was that one of South Carolina’s own, Army Sergeant George Buggs of Barnwell, was found along with Private Lynch, but for him the rescuers came too late. We do not yet know if Sgt. Buggs was killed in an ambush or later suffered torture. Yet, we do know that Sergeant Buggs did not die in vain; he gave his life so that we could remain safe from Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction and so that the citizens of Iraq could be freed from a brutal regime. You see, George Buggs decided to become part of something larger than himself, as did another young military man, Corporal Armando Ariel Gonzalez. Corporal Gonzalez was a member of the Marine Wing Support Squadron-273 stationed at Marine Corps Air Station, Beaufort, in South Carolina. He also gave his life bringing Freedom to the oppressed people of Iraq. Armando understood the significance of Operation Iraqi Freedom better than most us, because as a teenager he and his father used a raft to escape from an oppressive regime in Cuba to find liberty in America. These two soldiers were examples of the greatest generation I have ever known, your generation. I have met thousands of them in bases all over the globe, in Kuwait, Russia, Uzbekistan, China, South Korea, Germany, Kyrgystan, Turkey, Qatar, the United Kingdom and Iceland. Every meeting I have had with these amazing young people has given me new hope for our nation and our future. The military members of your generation are not much different from you; they simply serve our country in different ways. The determination to succeed, the courage to fight through difficulties, the pride they take in a job well done; these are the qualities of your generation. I am particularly grateful that in February I visited by helicopter the Army’s Third Infantry Division and the Marine First Division in Kuwait on the border of Iraq. Our five-person Congressional delegation presented banners signed by President Bush and members of Congress to encourage our troops. But while I was there I was encouraged to see their first-rate equipment, their high-tech surveillance capability, their excellent training, and their dedicated leaders. Their high-spirits confirmed to me that our American young people are capable of meeting any challenge in the world which they did and will continue to do. After today, some of you will continue your education. Others will enter the workforce immediately, and begin a promising career. Particularly, many have chosen to pursue a career in nursing, which is so important to our communities. We have faced a nursing shortage for years, and your service to the health of our people will save countless lives. No matter what your plans tomorrow, all of you have the opportunity to make a real difference in life. I encourage all of you to be actively involved in your local communities. Public service is one of the most rewarding things we can ever do in life, even if it is as simple as meeting the needs of our neighbors, or as involved as serving as a leader in your local government. So many charitable organizations need volunteers with your expertise and ability. My message to all of you is this: You are part of the greatest generation I have ever known, and I urge you to stay committed to your goals. Don’t stop here, keep striving for excellence in all you do, and be determined to serve our nation in some way so that the next generation will be as inspired by your lives as I am today. I am honored to serve you in Congress and I want to invite you and your families to visit Washington – we would be happy to coordinate tours and visits through our office. I am grateful President Russell and your Board of Trustees have already come by for briefings and pictures. Thank you for inviting me to speak. God bless you all, God bless our troops, and may God continue to bless America.