Tonight, I was honored to address the Brigade of Midshipmen at the United States Naval Academy. I was once one of them. Six decades ago – in the age of sail – I was an undistinguished member of the Class of 1958. My superiors didn’t hold me in very high esteem in those days. Their disapproval was measured in the hundreds of miles of extra duty I marched in my time here. To be honest, I wasn’t too thrilled to be here back then, and I was as relieved to graduate – fifth from the bottom of my class – as the Naval Academy was to see me go.
I wasn’t the first or last midshipman to have had a complicated relationship with this place. But I realized a little later in life that I had underestimated the effectiveness of my education here. I hadn’t fully appreciated all that the Academy was trying to teach me until much later in life. Lessons about sacrificing for something more important than yourself. Lessons about courage and humility. About friendship. About the meaning and responsibilities of honor.
My appreciation for those lessons and for the friendships I made here bring me back often. So does my gratitude for the life of adventure the Naval Academy prepared me for, and for the privilege of being a bit player in the story of America that the Navy made possible.