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Col. Adele E. Hodges, commanding officer of Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, urged ECU graduates to remember that the size of their commitment and conviction will matter in their lives, during commencement ceremonies on May 5. (Photo by Marc J. Kawanishi)

Hodges Urges Graduates to Consider, 'Size Matters"

Following are excerpts from the commencement address delivered by Col. Adele E. Hodges, commanding officer of Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, on May 5.

It is a real joy for me to be here—especially during your centennial celebration at such a pivotal moment in your lives. In fact, the thrill of imparting some thoughts on your future and dispensing a few pearls of wisdom is only tempered by the realization that I am one of the last people standing between you and your coveted diplomas, so I will try to be brief. And you senior football players who are thinking about getting me off the stage prematurely by charging, I think you may want to reconsider—I’ve got 40,000 of the world’s most lethal fighting force right down the road. And for those of you who think I’m here to give you a recruiting speech, I’m not. But just in case after this, if you want to sign up, I’m here for you.

But seriously, graduation day is truly a capstone event – symbolic of the closing of one chapter in your lives and the opening of a brand new one. This voyage of discovery is ending and soon you will each disembark to carve your own path into a brave new world. Your professors have helped you weather the storms over the years, your parents have provided a steady hand on the tiller, and they and your fellow students have been there to help you negotiate the shifting currents.

Each and every one of you are to be commended for your singular achievements. The trials you have been through in pursuit of your goal have been many, I’m sure, and only you can fully appreciate the sentimental thrill and struggle of what it took to get to this moment. Many of you have had to balance jobs, families, perhaps some financial setbacks in the pursuit of your dreams.

For some of you, it has taken years of dedicated focus, late night study session, and scores of term papers to get where you are today. And now that the dust has settled, I can assure you that those special relationships and intimate connections you formed with your friends and teachers will always remain. Indeed, the collective experience spent here is all about self realization and discovering what you are truly capable of — and hopefully you’ve found that your horizons are limitless.

When you leave this campus for the final time and the world beckons, I can tell you from personal experience that you will not have all the answers, and you will be tested for the rest of your lives, but ECU will have hopefully provided the foundation for that life yet to be realized.

Talking with Chancellor Ballard I am simply awestruck at the caliber of degrees being awarded today—doctorates, medical degrees, construction management degrees, nursing degrees, health professional degrees, and most importantly, education degrees. I firmly believe teachers are the backbone of this country; because without teachers, none of us would be here. Teachers are near and dear to my heart because at one time, it was my personal aspiration to be a teacher when I started college.

But, as you probably have noticed by the fact that I wear this uniform, my career path took a very sharp, hairpin turn from its original trajectory, which told me something quite profound—and that is the future you plan for yourself may not be the future you eventually realize, but nevertheless, you will find that it’s the future you were destined for. And thanks to an aggressive recruiter who got to me after signing my sister up for Marine Corps…well…you see what happened.

But mentoring Marines is what I have done throughout my Marine Corps career and it’s quite possibly the closest thing to teaching I could have imagined for myself. I have no regrets that the Marine Corps is the part my life ultimately took.

Over the years, many senior leaders have been valuable role models or teachers for me. I have learned hundreds of lifelong lessons from them and I have always tried to pass on those lessons to my Marines. But as much as my senior officers influenced many of my decisions, it has always been from my junior Marines, in their own unique way, that I have learned the most complex lessons in life. A while ago, I heard a rather slight colleague of mine tell the story about the time he was in the gym—which you can imagine is a very intimidating place aboard a Marine base. He came across this young corporal who could not have been more than 19, who was easily bench pressing 300 pounds.

After he sat up, my friend remembers asking him, “Now why in the world would you bother lifting that much weight?” Momentarily startled, he apparently got off the bench, stood up — easily 6’2”– wiped the sweat off his brow and said with a booming voice only a drill instructor could love, “Sir, because SIZE matters!”

And that Marine was right! SIZE does matter. I know you’re thinking how someone as short as I am could say that size matters. I’m not talking about physical SIZE, but rather the SIZE of your conviction, the SIZE of your compassion, and the SIZE of your humanity, the SIZE of your commitment, will serve each of you in the long run.

Everyday the world as we know it gets smaller and smaller due to modernization and digital technology. The noted author Thomas Friedman writes of a world that will diminish in size and flatten in the years to come. As you take your place in the world, you will find that the size of your commitment to improve it, the size of your compassion and humanity for mankind, the size of your conviction to do the honorable thing, will allow you to make a difference in a globalized society that is rapidly changing due to free trade and foreign labor. You can make a difference. And your SIZE...does matter these days.

You, the student body, deserve our recognition for the size of your heart and humanity. Your commitment to your local communities will be a lasting legacy that will be remembered for years to come. For those of you who have given back, who have dedicated countless hours to local shelters and charities, to Girls and Boys clubs, to leadership programs…for those of you who have reached out to your fellow students and to support the grieving community of Virginia Tech, the words “to serve” represent a higher calling to which you have responded and acquitted yourselves proudly.

You have learned a valuable lesson in giving back to your community. This country could not survive without volunteers. You are the epitome of great Americans, like the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Coast Guardsmen, and Marines who are currently fighting and dying on distant battlefields. They possess the same bravery, honor, and sense of duty that have distinguished American troops throughout history — many of whom graduated from this great university.

In closing, I would like to tell you a brief story of another great American. Jason Dunham, a twenty-two-year-old Marine corporal from a one-stoplight town in New York. Corporal Dunham was on patrol near the Syrian border, on April 14, 2004, when a black-clad Iraqi leaped out of a car and grabbed him around his neck.

Fighting hand-to-hand in the dirt, Dunham saw his attacker drop a grenade and made the instantaneous decision to place his own helmet over the explosive in the hope of containing the blast and protecting his men. When the smoke cleared, Dunham’s helmet was in shreds, and the corporal lay face down in his own blood. The Marines beside him were seriously wounded. Dunham never regained consciousness and succumbed to his wounds eight days later, with his parents by his bedside.

Dunham was subsequently nominated for the Congressional Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for military valor. Corporal Dunham leaves an indelible mark on this country’s legacy and truly exemplifies the size of humanity that should inspire each and every one of you. Size does indeed matter.

Class of 2007 I also want you to know that these immortal words can also apply to lengthy speeches. So I am going to conclude by thanking you all so much for having me. It has been my genuine privilege sharing this moment with you. I wish you good luck, fair winds, and following seas. God bless you, God bless this school, God bless our nation, and as we say in the Marine Corps, Semper Fidelis or “Always Faithful.”

This page originally appeared in the June 8, 2007 issue of Pieces of Eight. Complete issue is archived at