At 0945 the Upper School Corps of Cadets, faculty, staff, and administration gathered in Wicker Chapel for our 117th Convocation. This week's blog is my address to this assembly. We've started the year with 440 cadets, which is more than twenty cadets higher than last year, and includes record reenrollment of former cadets returning. God is surely blessing our school with such fine young men. Enjoy.
"Today officially opens the 117th Academic Session.
Over the last few years I've talked about what it means to be a Fork Union man.
A Fork Union man works for his future.
He sacrifices a little fun today to secure his tomorrow.
He supports his fellow cadets...his brothers.
This year's cadet leaders were selected because we believe they will help their fellow cadets be more successful.
Last year, nine out of ten cadets who started the year finished the year. It isn't that hard to do...it is actually quite simple, but not easy.
This year I would like it to be ten out of ten. I want to do even better than last year.
The Superintendent of another military school in Virginia asked his cadets this year to embrace the motto: "Don't leave anyone behind"...
I want you to do much better than that...after all we are the best college prep, Christian, military school in the world.
And we know it isn't good enough to not leave people behind. We reach back and even reach down to pull others up to the front...maybe even pulling or pushing them ahead of us...
That is what leaders with character do.
We went to great lengths to make sure every young man here in the Chapel has the brains, the character, and the physical stamina to succeed.
At the close of last year I said that the future of Fork Union Military Academy was bright.
That bright future is in this room today.
This is the finest collection of individuals ever assembled at Fork Union Military Academy for the first day of school in Wicker Chapel.
Time will only tell whether this is the best Corps of Cadets to be assembled.
Thank you for attending Fork Union Military Academy, and welcome to the long gray line that includes many distinguished graduates.
Over the summer I met with a few graduates.
Brian Zitterkopf graduated in 2008. He is now a first lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps, choosing to commission as a Marine after graduating from the United States Naval Academy in 2012.
He struggled here at first, but graduated second in his class. He served as our graduation speaker for the Class of 2013. He made us all very proud.
Another graduate, Blake Sundel, is beginning his senior year at Harvard University. He was working in Boston helping disadvantaged youth and shared his passion for improving cities in developing countries.
He graduated in 2011, and wanted a recommendation from Fork Union for his Marshall and Rhodes Scholar applications...knowing that the unique education received here may give him an advantage in this very competitive process.
I also learned this summer that Russ Garver, a young man who was a cadet here for 6th through 12th grade, and enlisted in the Navy after graduation, had just earned his Rescue Swimmer qualification. This requires tremendous discipline, tenacity, and courage.
I also went to the Under Armour Headquarters in Baltimore to meet Kevin Plank. He graduated from our postgraduate football program in 1991. His is the founder of Under Armour, and spoke highly of his classmates. They still have a close bond. He also told me that the experience here...in particular the time to reflect, study, and think clearly helped him on his path to success.
When you read your Bibles, I recommend you read about Timothy, a young church leader. Paul, his mentor told him the same thing I often tell young people:
‘Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith...do not neglect your gift which was given to you...’
Each of you is a gift from God, and has unique gifts given by God.
Over the last few days I've been more impressed than ever by the young men I've met. I see ambitious young people who clearly want to be successful, and know they are in the right place to ensure that success.
I can see that you want to take advantage of everything this school has to offer. You are so determined and focused that it will challenge us to meet your high expectations. Know that we too have high expectations for you.
Keep challenging us...and get the most from each quality interaction. We are here for you, and we have very intentionally chosen this path.
You see, we believe we can add value to the world by pulling each of you up, so that you can accomplish even more than we've accomplished.
At the risk of being too honest with you, there are days that I wonder: ‘What in the world am I doing in Fork Union?’
Some days you may wonder the same thing.
Please know that in the same way God placed each of us here, He placed you here. We are here to strengthen you, and by accepting our help, you will strengthen us.
I hope you will realize that God wants you here...and that He will want you to make the most of your time.
At the opening meetings with faculty, I challenged them to set a positive example.
I told them that I know cadets are paying closer attention to what we do, than to what we say...even though the words we choose must be chosen carefully.
Faculty, staff, and administrators must set examples of military decorum, adult conduct, and Christian character.
There are three things I am going to ask of everyone in this Chapel from the moment we leave this morning.
The first is to abide by the Honor Code: "I will not lie, cheat, or steal; or tolerate those who do."
I visited Hampden-Sydney College this summer, and a recent graduate put it like this:
‘If you lie you are a liar, if you cheat you are a cheater, and if you steal you are a thief. If you tolerate others who do, you are not a Hampton-Sydney man.’
You are not a Fork Union man either.
If you live by our core values, abiding by the Honor Code will be easy.
The second request is already in cadet regulations, but I am going to ask for more than just compliance.
When you are in uniform and pass a uniformed member of the staff or faculty, or a cadet officer, I want hand salutes rendered and returned with pride.
The military hand salute is a time-honored tradition...the presentation of the open empty hand...a signal that you mean no harm...it is a sign of respect.
This salute is to be accompanied by a hearty "Good Morning, Good Afternoon, or Good Evening."
While you only salute while in uniform, I don't want you to ever pass anyone without the appropriate greeting of the day. And if you are greeted by someone, return that greeting.
This applies particularly to those you see who you do not know...those who may be visitors to the campus.
The third and final request, is that you do at least one thing each day for someone other than yourself.
You can do more than one, but do at least one.
It might be as simple as taking up someone's tray, or offering to get them something to eat or drink while you are up...it might be holding a door, or taking out someone's trash.
Just do one thing for someone other than yourself. Something they didn't have to ask you to do...
If we all do those three things, live honorably, greet each other with respect and enthusiasm, and do good works, we will create an environment everyone will want to be a part of...a very special place...a sanctuary...
...a place where everyone knows why they are here: to serve God and to serve his fellow man.
It is great to have you all back.
I'm going to end with some advice that Coach London, the head football coach for the University of Virginia gives to each of his players:
‘Go to class. Show class and treat people with dignity and respect. Those directions are pretty easy to follow and will lead you on the path to success.’
Go Books! Go Blue Devils! Go FUMA!"