Commencement 2003

Admiral James Loy
Administrator, Transportation Security Administration
Department of Homeland Security
Saturday, June 21st 2003
Looking Back and Moving Forward  Admiral James Loy

Thank you, Mr. Visconti, and President Kiss for the gracious introduction, and thank you sincerely for the academic recognition from this magnificent institution. I am well aware of the unique and historic contributions the Webb Institute has made to the science of Naval Architecture and Engineering, and the critical contributions its graduates have made and will continue to make.

When I looked through the materials Dr. Kiss sent me for familiarization, I had two basic reactions:

One: I was taken back in time to my cadet days at the USCG Academy where in 1960-64, I remember relishing every single day of Calculus I-III, Differential Equations, Fluid Mechanics, Strength of Materials, Thermodynamics, Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering! NOT!!! Actually seeing those course loads again made me a bit squeamish, but I know the Board of Trustees wants me to make you graduates think I really enjoyed that stuff! Actually, I'm immensely proud that I survived it!

Two: Names of GIANTS! Dear friends and associates of mine in the marine engineering business for years...Don Liu; John McMullen (just recognized earlier this week by SCI for his lifetime of contributions to our industry!); Lester Rosenblatt, who truly loved this place and who we all really miss dearly after his passing last weekend; Bob Kramek, my old boss; Ed Roland; Bill Gray; and so many others. Indeed, I feel at home.

John F. Kennedy received an honorary degree in 1962, accepting with these words: "It might be said now that I have the best of both worlds - a Harvard education and a Yale degree." Today, I humbly accept your honor with a minor paraphrase: "It might be said now that I have the best of both worlds - a United States Coast Guard Academy education and a Webb Institute degree."

Thank you again, Mr. Visconti and your board members for this personal honor.

Now to another great honor. Good afternoon, members of the Webb Institute graduating class of 2003. What a wonderful day for the graduates and for all of us to recognize their academic achievement and to witness their enthusiasm in embracing a promising and adventurous future.

I'm honored to be part of your commencement and to address such dedicated faculty members, such supportive mentors and friends, and, of course, such exceptional graduates.

When I graduated from the US Coast Guard Academy in 1964, President Kennedy had committed to be our commencement speaker. Due to his untimely death, President Lyndon B. Johnson filled the slot. Here was the first seated president addressing the Soviet inventory of nuclear arms, and bringing America out of the shock and horror of Kennedy's assassination. And he was addressing my graduation class!

This was an important speech - words for the history books, right from the President's mouth. And where were we, the graduates, focusing? Well, despite our well-developed Coast Guard attention spans, I recall the focus was drifting constantly to the Academy's South Gate, the one through which we'd escape in just a few more minutes!

Bottom line, I realize I'm the only thing standing between you and the rest of your lives!!

So my next remarks must acknowledge the accomplishments of the graduates, before their attention span is over-challenged.

First, on behalf of leaders from both the public and private sectors, I wholeheartedly congratulate each and every one of you, individually, and as part of the Webb Institute academic family. This institution's reputation for excellence is unparalleled, and you should each be extraordinarily proud of your accomplished work.

Second, remember however, every worthwhile effort requires a team. Many of your teammates I see here today, donned with smiles and glowing with pride - students, parents, friends, and instructors - all necessary teammates to get the job done. I thank each of you, the teammates, for your contribution to the future of our country, represented by these graduates. Our future is in their hands, their minds, and their hearts. Their hands are skilled and strong; their minds reel with knowledge and creativity; and in their hearts beat the essence of our nation's hopes and dreams.

I urge you, the graduates, to hold your families, your friends, and your mentors close to your heart throughout your life. These life-long teams are truly treasures. I guarantee you they will each grow in value as every day goes by.

Thank you, dads and moms, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, grandparents, friends, and all who embellish the schematic of these young lives.

So, graduates, as eager as you may be for your "future" to begin - I must ask your indulgence to focus for a moment on the past. I've always been interested in history, and I find that the older I get, the more I hold history in high regard. I recommend you waste no time in discovering the value of looking back.

Your best example lives within these hallowed halls. Webb Institute is not just a part of a historical timeline but rather a block of history's very foundation. No one knows better than all of you that William H. Webb made a conscious decision to embed himself and his vision in history through the methodical and deliberate preservation of the knowledge, skills, and abilities of his father and grandfather.

He knew that knowledge alone is not enough. It must be applied, and it must be transferred to others. It must live across generations and be improved by each. That is about to be your obligation.

Such commitment has brought our nation forward by way of its historic past. Seems strange to look back and move forward - kind of like watching your rear view mirror while driving down the Interstate. It's amazing what information you can gain - and what disaster you can avoid - by checking the rear view mirror. Of course, if you do nothing but look back, you're also headed for disaster. You can't safely drive forward by looking exclusively in that rear view mirror. This is all about choices.

Making choices - deliberately or unknowingly - is hard work - some of the hardest work you'll ever do. The choices we make establish our own personal ethos - they reflect the foundation of our character and lead us forward.

The "right" choices aren't necessarily the obvious ones, especially at the time we're making them. Many of our choices mean taking chances, thinking on our feet, and creating our own opportunity and identity. Many mean taking the road less traveled.

One of your choices is in the development of a personal ethos, one that will bring you through both the good times and the difficult ones. It will help you focus for the rest of your life on where you want to go and what future choices you should make. Sometimes it crystallizes as a phrase: For me, mine was born in the middle of a challenging training deployment on the CG Cutter Midgett. I was the CO. The competition was intense. I offered my personal ethos in the night orders to the Watch Officers - Preparation Equals Performance. We did well, and spent the rest of the year excelling operationally because of that training. When I left the ship a year later, those officers presented me with a coveted gift - a clock engraved with those watchwords, "Preparation Equals Performance." A personal ethos born in the heat of the operational arena became watchwords for the rest of my life.

The choices we make - and the ethic we live by - is based on three reference platforms. The first is the past - our experience, our personal history, and the history we choose to preserve into tradition.

The second is our present - where and who we are today - our present state of mind and health and environment. Our awareness of self is an image that changes every day if we really make a conscious effort to look and have a willingness and honesty to see the truth.

The third is our future - our imagination. Imagination isn't just for children or writers or directors or daydreamers. Last night, Amazon.com shipped 1.5 million copies of Ms. Rowling's fifth book. Imagination. Our future is limited only by that imagination, our vision of what we want tomorrow to be like - in our personal life, in our professional life, and in the world around us.

Last night you sang of Emma Lazarus and Lady Liberty. Send me your tired, your poor, those yearning to be free...I lift my lamp beside the Golden Door...Welcome to America, the land of freedom and opportunity. That's good stuff, both dreaming and commitment to always be willing to keep it so.

Everyone in my graduating class back in '64 was, like you, an engineer - the walk on the moon, the world of numbers, the methodical approach of taking something apart and reassembling it. These days, engineers must also develop their sense of future - it's not just improving on a pre-existing design but thinking of the new and better design - innovation and imagination...even transformation. A future of free thinking by a new generation will bring America out of the terror of 9/11 and into a more secure and fearless 21st century.

Let's look at a moment in time. My father's generation used to ask each other, "What were you doing when Pearl Harbor was bombed?" My college mates used to ask each other, "Where were you when President Kennedy was shot?" With much vigilance, your generation will never forget September 11th, 2001, that dark Tuesday morning when our nation was attacked with the passion and cowardice of a uniquely new, 21st century enemy.

Terrorists inside our own borders turned four unknowing American airplanes from commercial carriers into deadly weapons of mass destruction and turned them against innocent passengers, the working people of New York, and the heart and soul of our military might. September 11 was the birth and the death of so many heroes. It was also the epitome of the word "united" in the United States of America. Your generation will write history's final chapter on how we as a nation respond.

The timeline in American history changed that day - we now have the pre-9/11 era and the post-9/11 era. This was a national turning point - our approach to daily life will never be quite the same. It will always be a balancing act between preserving our constitutionally protected freedom and securing our nation from the evil of murderous terrorists. This is not for someone else to grapple with. This is yours. It's NOT an elective!! Are you willing and able to make your contribution?

Today's national commitment is that our freedom and economy will not only survive, but thrive, and our security will be as effective as necessary, and as transparent as possible. America must maintain its passion for this commitment at a level greater than the misguided passion of the enemy. America has done that for 227 years. It's now your turn to join the long blue line of contributors.

With the miracle of modern broadcasting technology, the world saw the tragedy, the horror, the destruction and devastation - physically, emotionally, and economically - of that infamous Tuesday morning. We all heard and read about the loss of firefighters and police officers who heroically tried to save the innocent victims under extreme and unique circumstances.

Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta immediately grounded all commercial planes - an unprecedented call to protect and prevent further harm. What much of the world did not see or hear enough about was the amazing response by the maritime community.

Led by the Coast Guard Captain of the Port, the New York and New Jersey maritime community came together and evacuated more than half a million people off Manhattan Island by boat.

The bridges, tunnels, subways, and commuter rail had all been shut down for fear of further attacks.

It was the Maritime and Port industries that took many of the wounded to triage centers in New Jersey, supplied the heavy equipment so badly needed at the World Trade Center site, and delivered supplies for the emergency efforts.

Before September 11th, the largest maritime evacuation in history was performed at Dunkirk. Three hundred thousand British and French soldiers were evacuated by a flotilla of largely civilian boats while under attack from German troops.

In today's continually recovering environment, security of the nation's transportation systems requires all the vigilance and determination we can muster right here on the home front. We must prevent and protect, be ready to respond and restore - and do so with the integrity, innovation, and teamwork that Americans are famous for.

Just as on the battlefield and in the strategic plan of war, success depends on our attentiveness to lessons from the past, our ability to adapt and to innovate and remain flexible to the current threat environment, and wise use of our resources.

We must design, plan, and build. We must work smarter, faster, and more cost-effectively than the terrorists. The post-September 11 environment - physical, emotional, and economical - demands nothing short of our best efforts - both overseas and right here at home - today, tomorrow, and every day thereafter.

After such a life-altering experience, I felt both professionally equipped and emotionally inspired to join the Transportation Security Administration about a year ago. The TSA is the only organization birthed from the blood of September 11. TSA's mission reads quite simply - protect the Nation's transportation systems to ensure freedom of movement for people and commerce.

Whether you pursue an honorable career in service to your country, join the entrepreneurial leaders of business and industry, or transfer your skills and experience to others, your life will be entwined with homeland security.

It's every person's responsibility to remain vigilant, to suppress the complacency gene that tends to dominate with the passage of time. Here's where a glance in the rear view mirror can help us avoid a catastrophe. Yet we must always keep our eyes focused on the road ahead.

Our journey is just that - a journey, not a destination. We'll be challenged along the way, but will respond with a balance of past, present and future. Americans have historically met all forms of challenge because our way of life - our foundation of freedom - is worth the effort. Although freedom is not free, it is still a bargain at any cost.

Nothing pleases me more than knowing our country's future is in the hands of those who understand this new era and can ensure the integrity of our freedom and our economy. With my roots - professionally and personally - in the love of ships and the sea, I stand in awe of those who design and deliver the noble vessels that will protect us at sea, as well as those who fill the requirement to move people and commerce peacefully throughout our global economy and thereby keep it strong.

Commencement is truly an inspiring tradition. It's a mixture of emotions - anticipation, relief, accomplishment, uncertainty, and - certainly with these 16 new adventurers and their families - an exciting new beginning. In preparation for today, I wanted to offer you an inspiring quote from a famous speaker - a quote to carry you forward from your past and your present and take you to the best of places in your future. I examined military and political leaders. I looked at sports heroes and academic achievers, inventors, philosophers, and CEOs.

I finally found a sentence that I feel really sums it all up, a statement made by a man who achieved much personal satisfaction in his ability to make others more comfortable with themselves, and had nothing but good in his heart, in his life, and in his spirit.

This wise man of few and simple words knew that we were composites of everyone we chose to listen to, chose to befriend, and chose to team up with. He knew we literally choose our own foundation from our past experiences, our current frame of mind from those to whom we listen, and the vision of our future from our ability to recognize right from wrong.

This individual, through his own personal and professional turning points, found that invaluable answer, and offered it to the graduates of Dartmouth College just last year. I quote: "It's the knowing that we can be trusted, that we never have to fear the truth, that the bedrock of our lives from which we make our choices...is very good stuff." Thank you, Fred McFeely Rogers - better known to the youth and future of our world as "Mr. Rogers."

I wish each of you the strength to keep the "very good stuff" with you always. Let that trustworthiness, that truth, that "good stuff" reflect the pillars of your past, the energy and focus of your daily life, and your guiding light for tomorrow. For me, indeed, and I hope for you...Preparation Equals Performance!!

Thank you, congratulations, and Godspeed.