Dwight D. Eisenhower photo

Address at U. S. Naval Academy Commencement.

June 04, 1958

Admiral Smedberg, Governor McKeldin, Secretary Gates, Admiral Burke, Officers, Midshipmen, and friends of the Navy:

It is with real pride and pleasure that I come to Annapolis to congratulate this graduating class of the United States Naval Academy.

During your service at the Naval Academy, startling political, economic and scientific developments have occurred in the world. I am tempted to discuss them with you. But I believe you might find it more interesting to reflect upon the significant changes that have been brought about in you, yourselves, during your training in this magnificent institution.

From among thousands of young Americans who, four years ago, were hopeful of entering here, you were selected after careful scrutiny of your mental, moral and physical qualities.

Aside from your common desire to become midshipmen, there was little at that time to distinguish you from other Americans of similar education, talent, and aptitude. You were devoted to your God, your families and your country, but there was neither an internal nor an external force to bind you firmly together. Like other normal young Americans, you were endowed with the qualities of free men--initiative, independence, courage and patriotism. But all in all, in 1954, you were just another few hundred young Americans, not too distinguishable from thousands of others.

Now what a transformation has taken place!--one that you yourselves in this moment of contemplation can probably understand better than can any one else.

Of course, like others who have been exposed to the minds of dedicated teachers, you have increased in knowledge, understanding, and mental maturity. Your comprehension of our nation, its requirements, its responsibilities, its weaknesses, and its strength, has been sharpened. Your loyalty to country--a perceptive, abiding loyalty--has become a guiding force in your lives.

But beyond these results, there are more specialized results of your years in the Naval Academy. Your devotion to the Navy has been daily enhanced by four years of living with the traditions of John Paul Jones, Decatur, Farragut and Dewey. Personal honor has become to you a cardinal principle--ever guiding your thoughts and actions.

You have come to appreciate the value of discipline, for discipline binds an organization together and makes it effective in the performance of tasks that require the coordinated efforts of its members.

You have learned the functions of leadership and the need for it; you have been given innumerable opportunities to practice it.

In doing many things together--working, playing, observing cherished traditions, absorbing common conceptions of duty--you have developed an abiding and priceless morale, a quality that encompasses loyalty, optimism, dedication, professional competence, and courage.

In short, the four years over which you now look back have made you junior officers of the Armed forces. You are ready to take your assigned places in proud services whose traditions lift the hearts of all Americans, and whose readiness to play their part in protecting us from violence gives to every citizen a feeling of confidence and of security. Dedicated, disciplined, trained and professionally equipped to undertake your duties in the active forces, each of you is recognized by a discerning public as a priceless asset to the United States.

Thus you have gained important educational goals, some of them unique. But in the context of world problems that now face all of us, I suggest that you now resolve to devote yourselves to the life-long pursuit of new and broader intellectual goals.

No longer may any officer of the services content himself with the realization that he has become a skilled technician, a courageous and inspiring leader of battle units, even an experienced and seasoned commander of mighty fleets and armies.

His function of helping prevent war and of furthering a just peace has become of transcendent importance. for modern war is preposterously and mutually annihilative; peace is the imperative of our age. Yet peace can be won only from a position of strength. The armed forces, then, have become, indeed, great shields to guard the peace.

Throughout history, the idea of peace has been pursued by great minds of many nations. It has always eluded their grasp. Though none has been so ignorant as to fail to sense humanity's need for peace, yet in efforts to achieve and preserve it, passion, greed and arrogance have persistently defeated wisdom, tolerance and humility. for these tragic failures the world has ever had to pay a terrible price--in human suffering, privation, and destruction of every kind of value.

But in spite of this long and dismal history, we do not accept defeat in our quest for peace. The consequence of failure could be the destruction of nations--possibly even the disappearance of our civilization.

Pessimism must not cloud our thinking or weaken our resolute endeavors. Rather, as the danger rises with frightening speed, it is for each of us--every person of understanding--more intensively to dedicate his best efforts to the solution of this all-embracing problem.

Now, to say such things is easy but--you ask--how does one go about making of himself a crusader for peace? The answer to this question requires personal decisions in many fields of thought and action-decisions that each can only make for himself. But perhaps I can suggest a few of the avenues of effort that might be helpful. After all--in learning how to build a just peace, all of us, regardless of age, are students.

More than 600 of the members of this Class are now dedicated to helping the United States Navy remain the most powerful, the most effective sea-force on the earth, both for preventing war and, should it ever become necessary, in waging it.

So, first, I would urge that you, and your classmates entering other services, keep up your developments in your chosen profession. An officer of the Armed Services who persists in adhering to obsolete points of view is a liability, not an asset, to the nation. Service schools will help you to keep up-to-date on technical and strategic developments. But there isn't a day that will go by, beginning tomorrow, that you can't find time to do something about keeping yourself in touch with a rapidly changing world.

Of course you will expect to keep up-to-date on the principles and techniques of effective management. Obsolescence in military management and organization can be as dangerous to our nation as obsolescence in weaponry. Here there is much to be learned from teachers, books, your own experience, and thoughtful observation. I know of no better guidepost along the path to competence in this field than the determination to seek objectively the better fitting of our procedures, our units and our services into a pattern designed solely for the nation's good.

As a third suggestion, I trust you will make a habit of reflecting seriously and daily upon the unfolding world drama. To be competent as a technician is necessary; to be alert to all significant developments in and out of the Armed Services is equally so. However, to think of your professional work not as something complete in itself, but rather as an essential part of the total life of this nation, and to ponder the significance of the armed forces in terms of their necessity, their cost and their evolution in the world climate of today and tomorrow--this is the kind of contemplation that will help you along the road to responsible leadership for peace.

Another suggestion pertains to the value of improving your ability to communicate with your fellow men. There is no area in which we as Americans need to work harder. Our high schools and colleges recognize that our standards in expression have been too low. But we cannot afford to wait for the next generation! All of us must start now.

And as an important phase of this particular effort I hope you will each achieve a genuine proficiency in a foreign language. We are, indeed, poor linguists. And we are too much handicapped because so many of our people have failed to become knowledgeable in a language other than our own. Success in this will do much to improve human understanding in a world of great cultural diversity, and thus to strengthen our relationships with other peoples. This is one indispensable step toward a peaceful world! As men of character, intelligence, and conviction, with abundant privilege of traveling in many lands, you will have through your careers the great opportunity to do fruitful work in this regard.

Here may I be pardoned for addressing one word to you new youngsters in the first classes. I hear they are about to go on their summer cruises. They are going to visit many foreign ports. They have been briefed on the essentials of what I call the people-to-people program. I expect from them results that will be inspiring. I wish them luck.

Next, I would urge you to strive for a deeper understanding of the nature of man, of the physical and biological world in which we live, and on the economic and political systems of nations, and of cultural heritages of all other societies. Such knowledge will enable you, I believe, to make effective contributions to the development of a public opinion that will support firm, forward-looking, and peaceful policies in the field of international affairs.

I would emphasize the need for developing yourselves as effective leaders in the moral and spiritual realm of life. While this does not necessarily require religious training yet active participation in the faith of your choice can provide you with unparalleled opportunities for growth in understanding of the values upon which our civilization rests. Certainly it will help you to live up to the finest traditions of the service and of the nation to which you have dedicated your lives.

And because of the threat imposed by a militant and aggressive atheism, I believe that the strengthening of all phases of our moral and spiritual foundations has a profound significance for the actual security of our nation.

Basic to our democratic civilization are the principles and convictions that have bound us together as a nation. Among these are personal liberty, human rights, and the dignity of man. All these have their roots in a deeply held religious faith--in a belief in God.

They are the convictions that meant more to our founding fathers than did life itself. These are the truths with which we must combat the falsity of Communist materialistic doctrine. free world respect for them and Communist disdain for them are the very core of the struggle between Communist imperialism and Western freedom.

The stronger we become spiritually, the safer our civilization.

Each must truly understand these spiritual values, and have the will to nurture and strengthen them--to defend and protect them against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Nothing can be more effective in assuring our ability to continue to live the lives of a free people.

Now, my friends, I have tried in this brief fashion to point out a few of the directions that, with value to yourselves, your thinking and self-education could follow. I hope you will think of them.

But finally, there is one other quality I would mention among these that I believe will fit you for difficult and important posts. This is a healthy and lively sense of humor.

A casual pleasantry adds zest to a moment, but a genuine sense of humor is a deeper matter. It is in this deeper sense that I refer to it now.

One of the characteristics of a free people is their ceaseless search for knowledge and truth, and for higher standards of excellence. Their capacity to accept their mistakes in good humor--to experience setbacks without fear or resentment or embarrassment--adds vitality to their searching. A sense of humor goes hand in hand with independence of thought and an eternally questioning mind.

A Communist is not permitted the adventure of this kind of searching. To him there is only one truth--that ordained by the party--and that truth must be grimly and subserviently followed. Communists would find no meaning in the old saw "always take your work seriously, never yourself."

We know that one cardinal objective proclaimed in our Declaration of Independence is the pursuit of happiness. In that lifelong pursuit a sense of humor can relieve tension, soothe the pain of disappointment and strengthen the spirit for the formidable tasks that always He ahead.

And incidentally, at this moment I hope your own sense of humor is sufficiently active to assure your tolerance of the thoughts I have placed before you, even if you feel no compelling reason for pondering them.

Thank you, and may God bless all of you.

Note: The President's opening words referred to Adm. W. R. Smedberg III, Superintendent of the Academy, Governor Theodore R. McKeldin of Maryland, Thomas S. Gates, Jr., Secretary of the Navy, and Adm. Arleigh A. Burke, Chief of Naval Operations.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, Address at U. S. Naval Academy Commencement. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/233512

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