Gen. Colin Powell Offers Resonating Message during SC State University’s Spring Commencement

Friday, May 13, 2011

Gen. Colin L. Powell“Always remember, it’s not where you start in life, but where you end up.” This impactful message was echoed by Gen. Colin L. Powell, USA (RET) and left resonating in the hearts and minds of 450 graduates during SC State University’s Commencement Convocation on Friday, May 6, 2011.

After being inducted as the first honorary member of the Bulldog Battalion ROTC Hall of Fame, the retired four-star general delivered a dynamic speech to a sea of family members, friends, the SC State University family and the “phenomenal class of 2011,” as he described the graduates that filled Oliver C. Dawson Stadium.

“This is a remarkable day for you, and years from now when memories start to fade there’s some things that happened in the past few days or week that will always bring you back to this day,” he said, describing such historic events as the royal wedding, the assassination of Osama Bin Laden and President Barack Obama’s release of his birth certificate.

While noting the importance of these events, he jokingly urged the graduates not to forget one important detail about that night. “I’m worried that with all of that you might forget who your commencement speaker was. That’s P-O-W-E-L-L and don’t ya’ll forget that,” he humorously expressed.

Delivering a message of triumph and success, Powell told of his humble beginnings as a native of Harlem, raised in the South Bronx section of New York City. Upon graduating from Morris High School, he attended the City College of New York (CCNY).  While there, he says he was not considered one of CCNY’s most promising students. 

“It took me four and a half years to get through school, two changes of major, and the only way I got out of there was that I got straight A’s in ROTC for four years.  They rolled those straight A’s into my grade. I got a 2.0 grade point average (GPA) and they said get out, get out while you can,” he laughed.  “The faculty was happy to see me go, hoped the Army could make something out of me and said goodbye with a sigh of relief,” he said as the stadium filled with laughter.  “Now of course I am considered one of the greatest sons CCNY has ever had.  So those of you that are not graduating with a 3.8 or better, have faith my young friends, have faith.”

While he may not have thrived in his college setting, Powell dominated the military sector which he thoroughly enjoyed and was an obvious sign that he was moving in the right direction.  “I loved the Army.  I was a professional soldier and I was a good soldier,” he says.  Recalling his successful path, Powell shared that while in Vietnam he served as captain and was privileged to meet SC State alumnus and Gen. George Price, ’51.  “George was an example to me of being what an officer meant.  He was a professional.  He looked the part and he watched over me.  We began a friendship that has now lasted over a century,” he reflected. “What he gave me he had given to thousands of other young soldiers over the years, and I thank George for that and I thank South Carolina State for producing George and all others.”

Powell went on to discuss his appointment as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He was the first ROTC graduate from CCNY to attain such a prestigious position. “Perform and you go places; don’t perform then you won’t,” he noted.  “But I didn’t need to go to the top.  I didn’t need to become chairman to be a success in my chosen profession.  I just needed to know that I had done my best every single day. That was the real satisfaction in my life.  Not promotions but knowing that I was doing the best I possibly could.”

This was Powell’s charge to the graduates.  “Leave here and perform,” he stressed.  “No matter what your path is you have to perform to get ahead, and what helped me to do that was I was doing something that I loved.” 

Ashley N. Graham2011 physics graduate Ashley N. Graham is an example of someone who consistently performs doing what she loves.  Prior to becoming Miss SC State University for the 2010-2011 academic year, she served as queen during her freshman, sophomore and junior years, making history as the first queen to ever accomplish such a feat.  The Sumter, S.C. native will continue striving for the best as she competes in the Miss South Carolina pageant at the end of June.  She will also be attending the 8th National League of Black Women Strategic Leadership Conference in Tampa, Fl.

“Every since I’ve come to SC State, we’ve had people telling us you have to perform, so Gen. Powell’s message was a familiar phrase. To me it meant performing in your best capacity; be better than yourself and focus on yourself so that you can make the world a better place.” 

In fall 2011, Graham will live out Powell’s concluding messages when she “goes forth inspired and performs her duty to serve the nation,” as she pursues a career in health physics.