President Wright, members of the Board of Trustees, faculty, students, and guests.
We mark our accomplishments here today in peace and liberty, because of the sacrifice and wisdom of past generations. And even as we're gathered here, brave men and women in uniform risk their lives and die in conflicts overseas.
This island still bears scars that witness to a moment in history when we suddenly realized the tremendous cost of our freedom. There are few places in this great country where those scars run so deep. And there a few institutions better prepared to equip leaders to rise to the challenges of security and peace in the new century than Hawai'i Pacific University. The Diplomacy and Military Studies program has prepared my classmates and me to make difficult decisions in a complex world.
Working overseas, I've had the privilege of witnessing some of the events that we studied.
I was in Moscow the day and moment the Soviet Union ceased to exist. I was sitting in traffic with my friend Pasha, freezing. It was December 8, 1991. Over the radio we heard the unmistakable chime announcing the Moscow news. I knew that sound well because years earlier I'd fallen asleep to it countless times in Russian language lab as an Airman Basic. But then we listened to the announcement that with a stroke of a pen, the great empire -- eleven time zones, the empire of Sputnik and Stalin, kolkhozes and gulags, the doomsday machine with 65,000 nuclear warheads pointed between it and the United States -- had vanished. It was gone. Just like that. Pasha seemed to take it well. He just pointed at the radio and laughed.
But empires don't rise and fall, and wars are not won or lost in an instant. History doesn't happen in newsbreaks. The moment the Soviet Union ceased to exist, I was struck not by the greatness of the moment, but by its utter insignificance. Nothing changed. The mothers standing in line for bread still stood in line. The Bolshoi still served champagne and cakes during intermission. Life went on.
History happens gradually, almost imperceptibly. It happens one person at a time, making one decision at a time. My classmates and I undertook this course of study because we wanted our decisions to be good ones, framed with perspective. We were handed a perspective of millennia, from Thucydides to Keegan:
- We learned how those who failed to prepare for the unthinkable, invited its destruction.
- We learned that victorious leaders are the ones who listen and adapt.
- And we learned how the madness of a few combined with the indifference of the many resulted in the brain death of entire nations and great human tragedy.
We thought big thoughts. And we did so under the guidance of a faculty that included ambassadors, generals, and some of the most insightful historians in the world. I'm proud to have shared a classroom here.
My hope is that each of you will look back on this day, August 4, 2003, as the newsbreak when the future history was yet unwritten and a pen was placed in your hands.
And when our turn comes to fade from this earth, the sum of our accomplishments having been put to the page, may those we leave behind also gather under blue skies, in peace and liberty, their world enriched by the decisions we made and our humble efforts to learn.
Mahalo and aloha.
Dedicated to the memory of Kenneth M. Collins, Muleskinner, U.S. 7th Cavalry, 1916-1918