In Honor of the Marion Military Institute Class of 2020
This year’s graduating class has missed a significant part of the MMI experience due to a virus which has changed all of our lives. Their unconventional commencement this week is one piece of that.
The remarks come from a speech I gave at MMI two years ago, when the parade for Alumni Weekend was replaced by an abbreviated Pass in Review due to inclement weather. While the adjustments in Alumni Weekend 2018 can’t compare to the adjustments in 2020, both highlight the significance of the MMI experience.
My original remarks had, as a centerpiece, lots of references to the parade field, thinking that’s where we’d be — before the rain. I instead gave them on the Quadrangle, in front of the Chapel, with my back to the field.
For me, it’s rich with memories. It was the first thing I saw in 1978 as I arrived with another new cadet who picked me up in his very loud, primer gray Dodge Charger from my grandparents’ home in Clarksville, TN.
My very proper grandmother cringed when he drove up, Led Zeppelin blasting from an 8 track stereo. He got a speeding ticket before we got outside the city limits. Not a good start.
I had recently completed ROTC Basic Camp at Fort Knox and got to Marion in this jacked-up muscle car, never before having set foot in Alabama, and not having a clue about what to expect.
Riding along Washington Street, looking across the grass of that field, towards this chapel, as an 18 year old kid, I wondered what was ahead, what I had voluntarily gotten myself into, what faced me on the other side of that field.
I now know it was to become one of the most impactful and formative experiences of my life. But it took me years after graduation to fully realize it.
Ten years later I again rattled the historic windows of this campus and surrounding homes, not with a Charger’s booming sub-woofers, but with the distinctive thump-thump of a UH-1 helicopter right in the middle of that field – proud to show my crew this place.
That cemented it. And my appreciation of what MMI gave me has continued to grow.
Each time I arrive in Marion, I look across it towards this same chapel, to these same hallowed bricks where I scratched my name in the dead of night. Now standing here to receive this honor, it still moves me.
Especially when I consider my classmates, and the friends I have made among other alumni who I have had the privilege of knowing. They also stood on that field. As have many thousands of cadets in the last 175 years.
Many of them also loved this school.
Many also gained much from their time at MMI.
Many distinguished themselves in their military careers and other places.
Many gave of themselves in service to our country.
Many gave their lives in that service.
Later today we’ll honor some of those we have lost in the last year. Each year, sadly, the names read have become more familiar to me. Their faces and voices, I vividly recall. From the barracks, to the classrooms, pulling duty in the guard house, running on the roads in boots and fatigues, drilling on the quad, and on that field.
In later years – laughing together, swapping lies and reminiscing at reunions like this one – the stories getting bigger every year.
Cadets, faculty and staff.
All deserving of our honor today.
Memories so vibrant that I almost feel like it could once again be me in dress blues and creased white ducks, the glint of polished brass, and drawn saber, commanding Band Company, preparing for the “forward, march!”
That reverie fades when I realize that today I could never pass a uniform inspection, much less a PT test. But, for one fleeting breath, I was on that field.
In my remembrance, I was that young, skinny cadet, standing there, miserable in the Alabama humidity, wishing that fat old guy would finish talking so that we could all change into civvies and head over to Judson to see our sweethearts or with our buddies to wherever we could go with what was left of the weekend.
But this moment is not really about me. It’s about all of these young men and women of the corps, like all those who came before and all who will come after. All pledging themselves to the same imperatives of Truth, Honor and Service.
On that field those values and the lessons that flow from them begin to take life – both for your time at this school and in whatever your future holds. Remember what you take from this school. From that field.
I pray that, as much as this young cadet was ready to head out on the next great adventure, not knowing what was ahead, for each of us, the memories of that field which draw us here today, and the lessons that it taught us, by God’s grace, will continue to do so as long as we draw breath.