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U.S. Merchant Marine Academy Class of 2013 Commencement

Secretary Ray LaHood

"Remarks as prepared for delivery"

Commencement Ceremony

Introduction of General William Fraser

U.S. Merchant Marine Academy

June 17, 2013

Good morning everyone.

Admiral Helis, Admiral Dunlap, parents, faculty, staff, and alumni—it’s great to be here with you.

And to the graduating class of 2013, congratulations!

We all know that a strong maritime industry is essential for a prosperous and safe America. 

And it all starts right here – at the Academy—with all of you. 

As I look out at our graduating class, I know I’m looking at the future—the future leaders of the maritime community.

The Academy produces more than licensed mariners. This institution builds character and integrity.

It produces life-long leaders committed to serving our national interests.

All of you represent the Academy’s strength in these pursuits. Remember this as you take on your next challenge.

I feel a special connection to the Class of 2013, because you and I both came to Kings Point for the first time in 2009.

I was still a new secretary—getting to know the families and faculty that make the Academy strong.

All of you were fresh plebe candidates—embarking on your journey to leadership.   

Unlike you, I didn’t have to get a new haircut with my new role!

As we look back on the last four years—it’s clear that we’ve come far.

All of us have grown. All of us have changed. All of us are better because we overcame the challenges.

At times, it wasn’t easy. But you persevered.

You took on leadership opportunities.

You developed great character.

And you helped us to make the Academy better than it was the day you found it.

Today, as we celebrate all of you—we also celebrate the institution that helped you become the leaders you are today.

As I’ve said before, the Merchant Marine Academy is an enormous asset to our nation, preparing its graduates to support our nation’s economy and national security on the waterways and open seas. 

In these efforts, you will always have the support of President Obama and the Department of Transportation.

But as we all know—the world is a much different place than it was 70 years ago when the Academy was founded.

Our planet is more connected, our technologies are more advanced, and our challenges are more complex.

Our job is to make sure that the Academy continues to be a model institution that can train the next generation of leaders.

We must give the Academy the tools and resources that the future demands.

We must have the courage to adapt to the changes in our world.

As Secretary of Transportation, I’ve visited Kings Point nine times over four and half years.

When I first arrived on campus in 2009—I thought Mallory Pier would crumble under my feet.

I knew this school deserved more. The Kings Point community deserved more. You deserved more.

And so we came together and we worked to strengthen this institution.

We committed ourselves to abide by your motto, Acta Non Verba - "Deeds not words."

Today, I couldn’t be more proud of what we’ve accomplished together.

From top to bottom, we are rebuilding and repairing the Academy’s facilities.

We renovated Murphy Hall and Barney Square. We’re improving Delano Hall, Rogers Hall and Cleveland.

And construction on Mallory Pier is underway.

Going forward, the Academic buildings are next on our renovation list.

Now, if you’ve ever been in the engineering lab, you’ll know why we’re doing this. One of those labs looks like it belonged to Thomas Edison!

But starting next year, we’re going to change that.

The Academy also has a new training vessel that will allow our midshipmen to train on modern technology.  

And we’re updating the security on campus so that the staff and students will be safer.

The Academy has a strategic plan that will prepare us for the future.  This is a good plan that puts the Academy on a sure-footing going forward.

And the Academy has strong leaders at the helm.  Since becoming Superintendent last summer, Admiral Helis has been a driving force behind turning the words of our five year plan into action.

Admiral Dunlap also joined the team this year. With over 25 years of naval experience under her belt, she has been a critical part of our success.

She is also the first female Deputy Superintendent in the Academy’s history.

Admiral Dunlap has done a terrific job—and she represents our commitment to diversity here the Academy.

Over the last four years, female students have increased from 10 percent to nearly 17 percent.

Likewise, minority admissions have increased from 14 percent to 23 percent.

This is what America looks like. This is what the future looks like. And this is what the Academy is going to look like.

Everything we’ve done has helped to put this school on a path toward long-term success.

Graduates, I know that you have navigated through deep waters. But as a result, you’re stronger than you were four years ago. The Academy is stronger than it was four years ago.  

This is not the time to rest. Now, more than ever, we must not be complacent. We must continue to strive for excellence.

We owe this to the America people—they’re the ones funding this institution.

We owe them the best prepared mariners—Americans who are ready to lead with character and integrity.

The mission does not end here. It doesn’t end when I leave. It’s up to all of you to continue to work together to make the United States Merchant Marine Academy the great institution it can be.

And now, I’d like to introduce a man, who knows a great deal about hard work, partnerships and leadership.

As the current Commander of the U.S. Transportation Command, General William Fraser [FRAY-zur] understands the importance of a strong maritime industry.

Over the course of his career, he has been a leader.

He entered the Air Force in 1974 as a distinguished graduate of the Texas A&M University ROTC program.

He has been an instructor pilot and evaluator.

He has commanded an operations group, two bomb wings and a major command.

He has served as Chief of staff for the U.S. Strategic Command, as the Assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and as the 34th Vice Chief of Staff for the U.S. Air Force.

He served as a key advisor to Secretary of State Condoleezza [Con-do-lee-za] Rice.

And during Operation Enduring Freedom, he led a joint fusion organization that provided critical intelligence to our warfighters.

Simply put, he is a leader of strong character, who believes in the power of partnerships.

Please join me in welcoming General Fraser [FRAY-zur].

Updated: Monday, December 22, 2014
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