Introduction of Commencement Speaker
Dr. Donald R. Eastman, III
A few months ago my wife, Christine, and I were privileged to co-host an event with two couples who are our guests here today – Dick and Penny Crippen of the Tampa Bay Rays, and Tim and Anje Bogott, President and CEO of the Tradewinds Resort. Tim is also president of the Eckerd College President's Associates. At that event, our colleague during the winter months, Elie Wiesel, had a most engaging conversation with General Patraeus. They very soon began to talk about the foreign policy challenges of Iran, and they very quickly confirmed each other's analysis. As the General put it, while Elie nodded in agreement, "Human rights are the key to a peaceful Iran. Our job is to figure out how best to support human rights in Iran."
There are many paths to peace – none sure, none swift enough, each besieged by chance and disappointment and the human quality Christians know as original sin. At Eckerd College, we have spent another year studying and discussing – as we do each year – paths to peace:
This year many of our conversations focused on Africa: We listened to Michael Depledge talk about the environment and human health in Africa; John Prendergast, the conflict in the Congo and the Sudan; Nicholas Kristof, the crisis in the Congo; and Immaculee Ilibagiza, her survival of the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
We also celebrated this year, as we do each year, our institutional commitment to service as a principal value of educated men and women. In our senior capstone course, Quest for Meaning, in our study-abroad service-learning courses, in our ongoing work in Midtown St. Petersburg, and in a thousand other ways, Eckerd College students have again modeled the behavior of the Judeo-Christian value of service to others.
Now, we are honored to welcome as the last speaker of our academic year a man whose entire professional life has been committed to the service of his country and whose goal continues to be peace.
General David H. Petraeus assumed leadership of the United States Central Command in October 2008, after serving for over 19 months as the Commanding General of the Multi-National Force in Iraq. Previously, he had headed the U.S. Army Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworthand the 101st Airborne Division during which he led the "Screaming Eagles" in combat throughout the first year of Operation Iraqi Freedom. His command of the 101st followed a year deployed in Bosnia, where he was the Assistant Chief of Staff for Operations of the NATO Stabilization Force and the Deputy Commander of the US Joint Interagency Counter-Terrorism Task Force. Prior to his tour in Bosnia, he spent two years at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, serving first as the Assistant Division Commander for Operations of the 82nd Airborne Division and then as the Chief of Staff of the 18th Airborne Corps.
General Petraeus was commissioned in the Infantry upon graduation from the United States Military Academy in 1974 and received the General George C. Marshall Award as the top graduate of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College Class of 1983.
He subsequently earned a Master of Public Affairs degree and a Ph.D. in international relations from Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, and he later served as an Assistant Professor of International Relations at the US Military Academy.
Awards and decorations earned by General Petraeus include the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the Bronze Star Medal for valor, the State Department Distinguished Service Award, the NATO Meritorious Service Medal, and the French Légion d'Honneur. In 2005, U.S. News and World Report recognized him as one of America's 25 Best Leaders, and in 2007, Time magazine named him one of the 100 most influential leaders of the year and one of four runners-up for Time Person of the Year.
Most recently, Foreign Policy magazine selected him as one of the world's top 100 public intellectuals, and Esquire magazine named him one of the 75 Most Influential People of the 21st Century.
General Petraeus's influence on the defense strategy of the United States is unprecedented in the last half century:
- He has changed the current administration's view of the centrality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the overall American effort in the Middle-East.
- He engineered the strategy revision, known as "the surge," that led to a successful prosecution of the American intervention in Iraq and has also led to a comprehensive new strategy for our military involvement in Afghanistan.
- His Ph.D. dissertation at Princeton has led to an entirely new way to understand the failures of the prosecution of the Vietnam War, the most divisive war in our nation's history since the Civil War of the mid 1800s, and one that has had preemptive influence for better and, more often, for worse, on our military's conception of how to wage war and our country's conception of what war is about.
- He has, in his writings and speeches and Congressional testimonies, developed increasing support for a new understanding of how we should define the objectives of military success and the tactics of achieving them. Succinctly stated, what the American military has begun to look for under General Petraeus is not so much short term victory as long term peace.
Please join me in extending a very warm welcome to General David H. Petraeus.