Class of 2011: Your future starts today

Lt. Gen. Mike Gould released a statement Feb. 3 regarding religious respect at the Air Force Academy. General Gould is the Academy superintendent. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Lt. Gen. Mike Gould congratulated the Air Force Academy's Class of 2011 on their graduation May 25, 2011. General Gould is the Academy superintendent. (U.S. Air Force photo)

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- To the United States Air Force Academy Class of 2011 -- congratulations! You've earned the right to celebrate!

You'll remember May 25, 2011, for the rest of your lives. You've spent the last four-to-five years learning, training, preparing and giving of yourself to be here with your classmates to finally celebrate this momentous day together.

Today, your persistence and selfless dedication has profound meaning. Today, you've earned the right to say, "I'm a second lieutenant in the United States Air Force." Welcome to the long blue line!

Paula and I are honored to share this experience with you. We've watched with pride and admiration as you've overcome the challenges of cadet life. We've celebrated your successes and shared tears over your setbacks. And today, as you toss your hats in the air over Falcon Stadium, we'll rejoice with you and your families. It's been fun to watch the way you've learned about the history and traditions of the Air Force, just as you've also learned about yourselves -- your strengths, your weaknesses, your commitment, your endurance. You have learned what it takes to be an officer of character.

As we look back and recognize everything you have achieved, we also optimistically look toward the future and all that you will accomplish in the coming years. You already know we are a nation at war, engaged in a global ideological conflict against some of the most dangerous and unpredictable enemies the United States has ever faced. You also know you're prepared to conquer it!

Now, more than ever, the United States needs men and women willing to voluntarily raise their hands and say, "Send me." Each of you, selflessly, did exactly that four years ago when you entered the Cadet Wing as fourth class cadets, and thankfully, you just-as-selflessly do it again today.

We have immersed you in a culture that taught you to dare to be different. You have separated yourselves from your peers across the country and you have prepared yourselves to be leaders of character to lead Airmen. Now, it's time to showcase your talents. From today forward, you will proudly carry out the unique responsibilities with which you are charged, and you will demonstrate why the world relies on the judgment and integrity of the United States military's officer corps.

Most importantly, as you depart the Academy, I encourage you to embrace the love and pride you feel around you today from your family members, friends, classmates, teammates; from the faculty and staff who have supported you, and from me, Paula and the entire senior staff. We are indeed proud of each and every one of you!

When you leave Colorado Springs, remember the people of this community who hosted you and supported you from the day you stepped off the bus. Please remember the sponsor families who loved you like their own children ... the fans who cheered you on at sporting events ... the strangers who shook your hand and thanked you for your service when you were around town in uniform. The wonderful people of this town welcomed you with open arms on inprocessing day, and they celebrate with you now as you graduate.

We expect great things from you in the years ahead. The well-being of our nation is in your hands. Today, you take on the extraordinary responsibility of supporting and defending the Constitution of the United States and the American people. We urge you to drive out of Colorado Springs with all the pride and confidence in the world, knowing you're ready for the challenges that lie ahead. Our nation is in good hands -- yours. Congratulations, Class of 2011!