Entries in Graduates (3)


Panetta to Navy Grads: Military Is Evolving in Strategy, Diversity

File photo. Tech. Sgt. Jacob N. Bailey, U.S. Air Force(ANNAPOLIS, Md.) -- Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told a graduating class of naval officers Tuesday that rapidly changing global challenges for the United States meant they would be tasked with leading a military in metamorphosis.

“You must be prepared to respond to whatever threats we confront in the future with courage, with creativity and with leadership,” Panetta said, “Adapting to new challenges is what the naval service does best. This is not a time for playing it safe. It’s a time for imagination, a time for initiative.”

He made the remarks Tuesday to 1,099 graduates of the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis. The ensigns and second-lieutenants-to-be, sitting in full dress uniform under a blazing sun, were warned of the dangers they would face.

Panetta told the graduates the threat of a nuclear North Korea and Iran, cybersecurity, the rising prominence of the Asia-Pacific, and the ongoing pursuit of terrorism were reminders that “we are still at war.”

“All of this coming at a time of increasing budget challenges here at home,” said Panetta. "Our nation now looks to you, the next generation of military leaders, to confront the challenges I just outlined.”

Panetta touted NATO’s success in Libya and America’s commitment to a 2014 drawdown in Afghanistan. He told the students that strengthening ties with China would be “key” to peace from the Pacific to South Asia.

“That reality is inescapable for our country and for our military,” he said.

As the military’s strategies evolve, so do the very makeup of its members, said the secretary.

“You are men and women from every state in the union and 12 foreign nations; rich and poor; secular and religious; black, white, Latino, Native American, Asian; straight and gay.”

Some of 2012′s crop of military officers will be the first to enter the service as openly gay service members, eight months after the repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

This Annapolis class even witnessed the graduation of its first paraplegic student, 22-year-old Kevin Hillery. He was paralyzed from the waist in an accident during his junior year, but was allowed to remain at the academy to finish his classes.

Panetta said the diversity of the class served as a tribute to the first African-American graduate of the war college, Lieutenant Commander Wesley Brown. Brown, a member of the class of 1949, died last week.

Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus introduced Panetta at Tuesday’s ceremonies. Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and Rep. Robb Wittman, R-Va., were also in attendance.

Panetta’s appearance at Annapolis means a member of the administration has now officiated at each of the major military academies’ graduation ceremonies this year. In the last month President Obama has spoken at the Air Force Academy in Colorado, Vice President Biden at West Point, and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano at the Coast Guard school in Connecticut.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Naval Academy Graduates First Paraplegic Student

Mark Wilson/Getty Images(ANNAPOLIS, Md.) -- On Tuesday 1,099 students of the U.S. Naval Academy graduated, after being honored with a keynote speech by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. As at any commencement ceremony, each diploma was received with jubilation from the newly-commissioned Navy or Marine Corps officer and their family. But one midshipman drew more thunderous applause than any other: 22-year-old Kevin Hillery.

Hillery is the first student at the Naval Academy to graduate as a paraplegic. Paralyzed from the waist down, Hillery earned a degree in economics.

He lost the use of his legs in a freak accident during a trip to the Shenandoah Valley last April. He was mountain biking with friends when a storm came in, crushing him under a falling tree.

Hillery would later tell ABC’s Washington affiliate, WJLA, that the unprecedented nature of his accident left his family uncertain of his future. After grappling with the reality that he would not be able to fulfill his lifelong dream to be a Navy SEAL, his attention turned to convincing the academy to let him finish his degree.

He returned to the academy this spring.

“I think it reflects well on the Naval Academy and the Navy that they would stand by one of their own,” Kevin told WJLA.

Kevin, a Vermont native, won’t be continuing his career in the military, but said he is considering going to law school.

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Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Holder Welcomes Drug Court Graduates Back into Life

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) -- As students graduate across the country this week, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder spoke at a different kind of commencement event: a recognition ceremony for drug court graduates.

Holder spoke somberly in Washington, D.C., Thursday as he commended the graduates for completing what he said was most likely a difficult path, and an “uphill battle.” He described the drug court program as an “alternative to traditional probation and incarceration for nonviolent drug offenders.”

“For each of you, this program presented an opportunity -- and indeed a challenge -- to be honest with yourself, your family and your friends,” Holder said at the Superior Court Drug Intervention Program. "Today’s graduates have made it as the result of months of hard work, perseverance and dedication. Those who are still progressing through the program have demonstrated their willingness to confront problems with addiction and work to reclaim their futures.”

The drug court program is part of the Obama administration’s effort to reduce drug use not by putting users in jail but by helping them recover from addiction.

In his commencement speech, Holder boasted some facts from the drug court program, which he said was designed to be difficult: 75 percent of people who graduate have avoided being arrested again for at least two years; it can reduce crime by 45 percent more than “other sentencing options”; and for every dollar spent, three tax dollars are saved.

“Even more critically, you’re illustrating that they can reunite families, help communities feel safer and more secure, and make lives whole again,” Holder said.

He concluded, “I know this program is strict, and that it’s extraordinarily difficult to get through. But that’s why I am so proud to celebrate the progress that today’s graduates have made, to recognize the achievements of those who are continuing to move along the path to recovery, and to encourage every drug court participant to keep fighting. Keep working hard. And keep up your efforts to reclaim your lives, rejoin your communities, and strengthen our great nation.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio