The Norwich University commencement exercises of 1946 were an auspicious occasion. Dubbed the “Victory Commencement,” it marked the completion of the first regular academic year following World War II. In fact, it was the first full-fledged commencement ceremony to be held since 1941. The occasion attracted a prominent commencement speaker: Army Chief of Staff and former Supreme Allied Commander of Forces in Western Europe, General Dwight D. Eisenhower.
During the war, Norwich had been in turmoil, with no cadets from 1943 to 1944 as the campus was converted to a special air training facility. The 1945-1946 academic year was the beginning of a return to normalcy, though with so many cadets having interrupted their studies for military service, only five young men graduated in the class of 1946, one of the smallest graduating classes in NU history. Despite their small numbers, the graduates had an audience of over 4000 by virtue of the commencement speaker, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower. Eisenhower was accompanied by US Senator from Vermont, Warren R. Austin, recently appointed Ambassador to the United Nations. General Eisenhower delivered an address in support of the fledgling United Nations and personally greeted each graduate of the Class of 1946.
In his remarks, General Eisenhower said:
“I have tried earnestly but futilely to marshal the words that might convey to you the sense of distinction I feel in the honor conferred on me today by Norwich University. I am here in the name of millions of allied fighting men, authors of memorable victories in the Mediterranean and in Western Europe. I will never be able to adequately express the greatness of my pride in their accomplishments. So I am unable to make them, or you, understand the depth of my humility when a great institution such as this calls on me to act as their representative to receive tribute to their soldierly virtues.”
As General Eisenhower was reaching the end of his address he turned to the graduates and said:
“You men, and others like you throughout the country, are equipped to lead us, in safe stages, towards our goal. With your appreciation of history’s lessons, you will fight the indifference, the blind complacency, the selfish inertia that more than once have let us drift into a war that might have been prevented. Moreover you will bring under your banner a constantly increasing army of citizen-soldiers determined, with you, to win the peace. With the qualifications of determination, good humor, firmness and optimism, I know you will let no setback, no discouragement, diminish the effectiveness of your efforts … To you of the graduating class, your time to begin taking over is at hand. Within hours you will be called upon to assume roles that with the years will constantly grow greater in importance and responsibility. Your role is that of citizen leaders of the greatest nation on earth during one of the most critical periods of its history. You are an essential part of the nation’s strength against the dreaded possibility of war, but more importantly in providing constructive leadership for peace.”
The 127th Commencement culminated with General Eisenhower receiving an honorary Doctor of Military Science. The address was further highlighted by being a front page story in the New York Times.
Submitted by George H. Kabel ’70. Some content courtesy of Norwich University Archives staff. The complete text of Gen. Eisenhower’s address was reprinted in the Norwich Record, Vol. 37, No. 24, on June 21, 1946.