Gen. Dunford to Class of ‘17 grads: ‘It’s time to lead’


The U.S. military’s senior officer welcomed nearly 1,000 new second lieutenants into the officer corps May 24 during the Air Force Academy’s Class of 2017 graduation ceremony at Falcon Stadium. 

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford encouraged the new officers to be flexible, team-oriented leaders who embody courage, honor, commitment, loyalty and selflessness.

“These are the intangible characteristics of leadership,” he said.

Dunford looked directly at the 979 graduates seated nearby and said they will be judged as officers by their organization’s success.

“You are at a critical inflection point where after today, the focus is not on you,” he said. “Your successes as officers will be the successes of your squadrons.”

The chairman spoke extensively about the positive effects produced by military leaders who adapt to change.

“Flexibility is the key to air power,” he said. “It’s the key attribute for you as a leader. Embrace and lead change.”

Change is inevitable and has implications at the tactical, strategic and operational levels, Dunford said. However, today’s military officers must find productive ways to grapple with changes in technology, equipment and aircraft systems. Beyond all, leaders must show care and concern for those they lead.

“The military profession at the end of the day is about people,” he said.

Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson, a 1982 Academy graduate, spoke before Dunford.

“Most of you graduating today did not do this alone and I know that marching in here today, you were trying to glance at the crowd to see if you could find the face that matters the most to you,” she said. “So go ahead, stand up and look around. Find them, cheer them and thank them.”

Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson also spoke during the ceremony. She encouraged the graduates to seek challenges throughout their Air Force careers.

“You will enter a more complex, interconnected and volatile geopolitical landscape than our military has ever known, but I am confident that you are ready to outpace the rapid developments of our adversaries,” she said.

Johnson said the graduates’ dedication to the Air Force core values of integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do, and commitment to character development, will help them meet future challenges.

“It is you who will ensure we remain the best air force on the planet and I look forward to the destinations you will take us in air, space, cyberspace and beyond,” she said.

This graduation ceremony will be Johnson’s last as superintendent.

“It has been my great privilege to be a part of these formative four years of development for both this class and our Academy,” she said. “This exceptional class has displayed an inventive spirit and hunger for discovery that has helped accelerate our Academy’s upward trajectory and has exemplified that we are delivering our mission in a modern and relevant way.”

Dunford concluded his speech by commending the graduates for successfully completing the Academy’s rigorous academic, athletic and military training curriculum.

“You’ve accomplished a great deal and deserve to be recognized,” he said before handing the new officers their diplomas. “Graduates, it’s time to lead.”

Top Squadron, Top Grad

Cadet Squadron 32 is this year’s Top Cadet Squadron. Each year, the Cadet Wing’s 40 squadrons are judged on their academic, athletic and military performance. The squadron shared the stage with Dunford.

Second Lt. Young Wu, formerly of Cadet Squadron 03, was the top graduate and the first to receive his diploma from Dunford.

Wu received the honor after scoring the maximum on athletic and physical fitness tests, earning the No. 1 military performance average among this year’s graduating class, and maintaining a high GPA.