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Gen. Wesley Clark Reminds MSFS Graduates at Georgetown to “Hold Onto Your Principles – You’re Going to Need Them”

General Wesley Clark addressing the MSFS Tropaia Ceremony, May 15, 2009

General Wesley Clark addressing the MSFS Tropaia Ceremony, May 15, 2009

Last Friday, I had the honor to preside over the Georgetown University Master of Science in Foreign Service diploma ceremony, known as the Tropaia Ceremony. We were excited to have General Wesley Clark as our speaker. Lauren Burgoon, writing on the Georgetown website, posts the following story:

As graduates integrate into a changing world, retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark advised students to confront the future by heeding time-tested lessons.His top advice: be aware of who you are and what you believe in.

“You’ve got to hang onto your principles,” said Clark, the featured speaker at MSFS’s award and diploma ceremony. “You can’t imagine how easy it is to compromise out there to get what you think you need. And, ultimately, when you do, you’ll have lost that which is more important to your achievement – which is yourself.”

Clark said he has been tested throughout his career, which included serving in the Vietnam War, leading NATO forces in Operation Allied Force during the war in Kosovo and running in the 2004 Democratic presidential primary election. Clark retired as a four-star general and now is the chair and chief executive officer of a strategic consulting firm and an author.

Each career phrase brought different challenged for the general, and Clark gave graduating MSFS students two other rules to live by as they prepare to take positions in the military, foreign service, nongovernmental organizations, media and business. First, he asked them to always find ways to move forward, to seek progress and make things better.

Second, treat people with respect, Clark implored. The general said graduates will encounter plenty of people who don’t live by that rule, and Clark said he has watched diplomacy fail as a result.

“Just remember that brains are not limited to people with degrees,” Clark said. “There are a lot of smart people out there who don’t have degrees.”

MSFS graduate Alisha Bhagat (G’09) called Clark’s words timely.

“Now that we’re going into jobs, it’s important to remember we can’t be afraid to stand up for what’s right,” she said. “Sometimes you have to go against what you’re told to do.”

Despite the serious subject of Clark’s speech, the MSFS ceremony felt more like a party than pomp and circumstance. Graduates walked into Gaston Hall to whoops, hollers and even a cow bell, with the cheers echoing off of Gaston’s walls. The audience spent much of the ceremony leaping to their feet, cheering on graduates, welcoming Clark and applauding SFS Dean Robert Gallucci, who is leaving Georgetown this summer.

In addition to General Clark’s address, talks were given by Professor Casimir Yost, the outgoing chair of the MSFS Concentration in International Relations and Security, and W. Gyude Moore, the student speaker elected by his class. Moore, who fled war-torn Liberia to come to the United States. delivered a particularly moving and  inspirational address.

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Anthony Clark Arend is Professor of Government and Foreign Service at Georgetown University and the Director of the Master of Science in Foreign Service in the Walsh School of Foreign Service.

Commentary and analysis at the intersection of international law and politics.