The Road To Leadership

I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I do know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.” Albert Schweitzer.

“Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile…Try not to become a man of success but rather try to become a man of value.” Albert Einstein

With tropical breezes blowing and sudden squalls of summer making life decidedly sticky, it is hard to believe that early in August the knob training cadre, like migratory fowl returning to their seasonal nesting place, nestled into their accustomed place on The Citadel campus. Two weeks later a record 760 new cadets followed in their wake, soon to be shorn of their locks and initiated into the privation and challenge of being a Citadel “knob.”

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These young men and women will not be greeted with beer blasts and the raucous activity of pledging that is associated in the minds of the public for the almost three million other new college freshman. Their presence on The Citadel campus will signify they have pledged, sworn actually, to become part of an elite group dedicated to turning themselves into leaders of tomorrow for a society that sorely needs them. Once sworn and shorn, the newest members of a Corps that stretches back the better part of 175 years face a year of scrutiny by previously initiated upperclassmen. They will walk in the gutter, salute cadet officers, brace when required, and keep a spotless room. They will dread the sudden “inspection”, and to top it off they have been shorn of more than their hair. They will each be known to almost all simply as “knobs” until recognition day in the spring.

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What would possess any of our coddled three million adolescents headed to college this year to put up with the abuse knobs willingly embrace when they pass through Lesesne Gate? Simply, it is a desire to put aside childhood and embrace a more ambitious future as tomorrow’s leaders. One of my upperclassmen recently put it: “In my own life, through trials and tribulations, I have come to know the meaning of being a principled leader.”… Today we are called leaders because we are cadets here at The Citadel. We are . . . the future of this great nation. We are defined by the ring we wear when leaving this school. It brings us much credit. However I see it much differently. It is not the ring that gives credit; it is the cadet that brings the ring much credit. It is the decisions we make throughout our lives that define us. The Citadel is only a tool in the molding process.”

“Tool” or Vulcan’s Forge, life at The Citadel is hardly a walk in the park. History confirms we could use more such men and women for the years ahead. Outsiders shiver when they hear of the first week in the barracks and its systematic stripping of all adolescent self importance to be replaced with the beginning of the humility that is the bedrock of the cadet’s reconstruction into someone who can, some months thereafter, honestly project the attitude displayed in the quote above.

During that intervening time, while we in the academic departments discipline and enlighten their minds, The Commandant and our fourth class system are working hard to produce “young men and women with alert minds and sound bodies, who have been taught high ideals, honor, integrity, loyalty and patriotism; who accept the responsibilities which accompany leadership; and, who have sufficient professional knowledge to take their place in a highly competitive world.”

From their earliest days, cadets learn to live the creed they are called upon often to repeat; “I will always endeavor to uphold the prestige, honor, and high esprit de corps of The Citadel and the South Carolina Corps of Cadets. Never shall I fail my comrades. I will always keep myself mentally alert, physically tough, and morally straight. I will shoulder more than my share of the task whatever it may be. Gallantly will I show the world that I am a well-trained cadet. My courtesy to superior officers, neatness of dress, and care of equipment shall set the example for others to follow. And under no circumstances will I ever embarrass The Citadel and the South Carolina Corps of Cadets.”

As you traverse the portal of Padgett-Thomas Barracks, the largest of our cadet housing facilities, there resides inscribed: “Duty the sublimest word in the English language” Uttered both by Robert E. Lee and Admiral Nelson, this inscription is at the heart of cadet life. From first haircut to presentation of The Citadel ring and graduation, The Citadel cadet is on a journey trod by generations that have come before in an endless gray line dedicated to Duty, Honor and Respect. From the ashes of the first week, cadets rise to accept and then take pride that their meaning in life is bound up in the service to others. General Macarthur once noted,

“The code which those words (country was third on his list) perpetuate embraces the highest moral laws and will stand the test of any ethics or philosophies ever promulgated for the uplift of mankind. Its requirements are for the things that are right, and its restraints are from the things that are wrong.”

General Eisenhower has set our task as educators to guide them on their way to an understanding that

“Leadership cannot be exercised by the weak. It demands strength—the strength of this great nation when its people are united in purpose, united in a common fundamental faith, united in their readiness to work for human freedom and peace: this spiritual and economic strength, in turn, must be reinforced in a still armed world by the physical strength necessary for the defense of ourselves and our friends.”

Knobs of the class of 2016 are the inheritors of this wisdom, this strength. They are the new recruits to that Long Gray Line that has never let our country down. Like many of their predecessors they come to us in a time of challenge. From my close observation, “The Citadel Way,” whether you end up in a military career or leading one of our civilian enterprises, will change you. It will temper you into polished steel. It will teach you what is right and give you tools to assist you when confronted with life’s dilemma that what is right is not always easy. It remains, however, the right way, the way The Citadel and generations of its graduates have lived their lives and expect their successors to follow in providing this generation’s need for leadership in the challenges that surely will come. We in the faculty or in command of the Corps have confidence that you will not fail. Your nation looks to you to lead us to a more settled times and tranquil waters. Welcome, Cadets. God speed you on your way to meet the challenges ahead.

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