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2014 Junior College Commencement

The commencement exercises for the members of GMC Junior College Class of 2014 were held on Saturday, May 31, at 10:30 a.m., in the Centennial Center. Stanley “Stas” Preczewski, Ph.D., President of Georgia Gwinnett College, presented the Commencement Address. During the ceremony, Robert J. Koontz received the Peter J. Boylan Award, recognizing him as the Milledgeville Campus Distinguished Graduating Student. Koontz also received the Cadet Leadership Excellence Award. Dawn Elcombe was recognized as the Columbus Campus Distinguished Graduating Student and Lacey Zorn was recognized as the Online Campus Distinguished Graduating Student. Immediately after the presentation of diplomas, Ms. Shannon New-Diaz, GMC Prep School Class of 1975, Junior College Class of 1976 and President of the Georgia Military College Alumni Association, welcomed the members of the graduating class into the Alumni Association.View photos here: http://gmcpr.smugmug.com/20132014/Junior-College-Commencement-53 Read Dr. Preczewski's speech: General Caldwell, distinguished guests including the parents, friends and relatives of the graduates, and most importantly, GMC’s graduating Class of 2014—Greetings! What an honor to be able to address you briefly today as you continue your string of successes by receiving your degrees. Those successes include 22 of you being Early Commissioned and being sworn into the National Guard as 2nd Lieutenants later this afternoon. Congratulations on a job well done to you! People who know me well know that I like to inject humor into most all that I do. It places people at ease and allows them to approach their duties with a calm and positive attitude. Today however, I will take a much more serious approach for your class as you are about to enter a very serious world. It is a world absent of GMC’s layers of personal attention aimed at your personal development, a world that is unforgiving of errors, and a world that will hold you accountable for all that you do. The good news is that it is a world that GMC has well prepared you to excel in, having instilled in you the knowledge and basic skills to begin the next phase of your exciting lives. So for the next ten minutes or so, I plan to impart three thoughts to you, one about choices & outcomes, one about hard statistics associated with those choices, and finally, one about what I believe is any organization’s most scarce resource—leadership-- and the importance of personal integrity in the execution of that leadership. My goal is not to entertain you, rather, it is to “talk straight” with you based upon what I know about what lies ahead for you starting tomorrow. Like you, my character has been largely shaped by the proud military traditions of rigor, self-discipline and a can-do never-quit attitude. So here come some truths. Choices & Outcomes. From the days of your earliest memories, you started to make choices and then experienced the outcomes associated with those choices. At two years of age, you reached for a hot pot on the stove and were burned. You learned to avoid touching hot things. You pulled on a dog’s tail and were bitten—you learned to respect animals. At five, you learned to share because when you failed to share, no one would share with you. You learned to be social. In school, unless you were exceptionally gifted, you learned that when you chose to play video games instead of study, your grades suffered. When you worked hard, college became an option. You learned to work hard. Bottom-line: Bad choices are usually associated with bad outcomes, and good choices usually result in positive outcomes. Pretty easy concept—yet every day the news is filled with examples of tragic outcomes resulting from poor choices. As some of you have chosen military service as your career, know that your bad choices as leaders can have deadly outcomes. Conversely, well-conceived, well-informed good choices will save the lives of those in your charge. I’m happy to note that your presence here today indicates that the majority of your choices to date have been good ones. Indeed, take a moment and think about those who started here at GMC with you years ago, and the choice those classmates made that resulted in their absence from this event today. You made choices to study, to learn, to lead, to follow, to inquire, to persist to today’s finish line, a finish line labeled “commencement.” And please note: there are many more races and finish lines ahead of you—but today YOUR accomplishment, YOUR diploma, provides you an automatic entry ticket to a new series of races and more profound finish lines to cross that result in even greater rewards. My hat is off to your classmate, Cadet Colonel Robert Koontz chosen as 2014 Distinguished Graduating Student - Milledgeville Campus. His achievements exemplify the positive results of making good choices. The choices that each of you have made to date will have measurable, indisputably positive outcomes for you. The federal government’s Bureau of Labor Statistics recently reported the following: On average, those with an associate’s degree will earn 20% more annual income than those with just a high school diploma and more than double that of those without a high school diploma. As a bonus, you will have around a 1% lower unemployment rate. You already are off to a pretty good start with your degree. Your choices that brought you to this point today will already have a lifetime’s positive effect upon you in terms of likely employment increased income, and a better quality of life. It also increases the chances your parents will now kick you out of the basement and tell you to get job and support yourself.---Perhaps. I say “perhaps a job” because if you did reasonably well in your grade point average, you now possess a free ticket into hundreds of colleges in America that grant bachelor’s degrees after just another two years of study. Notably and proudly, this year GMC joins the ranks of those colleges offering the baccalaureate degree! You can avoid employed work for another year or two and earn the bachelor’s degree. Now if you are anything like I was when I finished my first college degree, the last thing I wanted to think about was going back to school. No interest, zip, nada. I see some heads nodding. Trust me, I just wanted to get out there into the field Army with soldiers and use the knowledge and skills I learned in college to serve our Nation. But here is why continuing your education really matters: While the associate’s degree lowers your unemployment rate and increases your likely earnings by 20%, simply choosing to complete your baccalaureate degree after two more years of study means that you gain nearly a 100% increase in your annual salary—that is right—it doubles your earnings from someone who holds a high school diploma and nearly 80% more than the associates degree. And yes, the bachelor’s degree group has the absolute lowest unemployment rate in the nation at just 3.3% unemployed! My guess is that those remaining three percent who are unemployed actually enjoy their parent’s basement. So I ask you to seriously consider continuing your education and earn your bachelor’s degree. Reports indicate that as many as two-thirds of all future jobs will require a college degree. You are on a winning path—keep it going. Choices matter and the statistics prove that educational choices will certainly affect your quality of life forever. This is not my opinion—these are the facts. It is also a fact that I know of no other public organization that values ever-increasing levels of education more than does the military. For me, they paid for two masters’ degrees and a doctorate. The military is about as complex and dynamic an organization as this planet can conceive. It takes ever more educated leaders to handle that complexity. When commissioned, at an average ripe old age of 22, they hand you a platoon of soldiers to lead in combat, millions in equipment, in a foreign land, with a determined enemy bent on harming you with ever changing tactics. You are expected to be a military expert, a civil relations expert, a counselor, a logistical whiz, proficient in the most advance communications, weapons and geographic locating technology, proficient in health matters, be culturally aware and achieve your mission. And that is expected before breakfast! Exciting stuff!! And that brings me to my final thoughts and they are related to leadership. Documented research tells us that corporate leaders, governmental officials, and charitable organizations all seek basic leadership skills in those that they hire as college graduates. And they seek a liberally-educated leader who is robust in a broad range of academic fields. A dear friend of mine who is former artillery commander and a distinguished graduate of the Harvard Business School, now serves as the Chief Executive Officer/president of an enormous manufacturing corporation in the Northeast. In fact, he has led several large companies nation-wide. When I asked him which resource was the scarcest and prevented him from achieving the fullest potential of his companies, without hesitation he replied LEADERSHIP. In fact, he said that not only was it the scarcest resource in his companies, it was the single most important resource. Widgets, machines, technology and facilities could only do what they were designed to do, but good leaders could do so much more than they were hired to do. They could innovate, they could adapt, they could inspire, they could care about others, they could be the sole difference between failure and success. And though willing to pay a premium salary for quality leaders, he just cannot find them in sufficient numbers and so spends precious resources trying to develop them from within. GMC Class of 2014, I am here to tell you that you are miles ahead of your peers in that you already have demonstrated the basic leadership skills necessary that allowed you to reach this very day. Your time here as cadets has invariably placed you in leadership positions which, when enhanced with more education, more experiences, and more responsibilities, will vault you to greater heights and accomplishments. My friend needs your leadership, organizations need your leadership, your Nation needs your leadership. As my predecessor, General Dan Kaufman often stated, If leadership were easy, everyone would do it. But it isn’t easy and not everyone can do it. Study leadership, read about it, practice it, reflect on it, improve it and then practice it some more. Leadership can make all the difference. And perhaps, the most important aspect of leadership, is personal integrity. Think about this: in this world virtually everything can be taken away from you. Others can take your property, can take away your way of life, can take your reputation, can remove your freedoms, and others can even take away your life. But no one—no one-- can take away your personal integrity—that is solely something that you have to choose to surrender to others. This all comes full-circle back to your personal choices—what will cause you to lie? To take something that is not yours to take? To cause you to violate your vows or oaths? To quit under pressure? To cut corners? To choose the easier wrong? To pass by and ignore that which needs to be fixed? To care about yourself at the expense of others? It happens every day—read the news on the web or watch CNN. Far too many choose to give up their integrity for short-term gain, fame or pleasure. You, GMC Class of 2014, have superbly demonstrated choices that indicated strong personal integrity. You are proven learners, educated graduates, self-disciplined leaders whose integrity is appreciated by all those in attendance here today. You are ready to take that integrity, to take your leadership, to take your education and to take your ability to choose wisely and use them in positive ways that we cannot even imagine today. It is a fact that all of the leaders who have assisted you to this point in life will need to be replaced by those in your generation in the years ahead. I literally pray that my replacement will have the integrity instilled in each of you and that you will CHOOSE to maintain your integrity throughout a lifetime of selfless service to others. If you do, I shall rest easy in knowing that our country and our freedoms are in good hands. So, choose wisely, heed the statistics, LEAD, and maintain your integrity throughout. If anyone can do it, you can. May God bless you all, keep you safe, and guide your choices. Congratulations and GO BULLDOGS!