AOG: Congratulations, Class of '11

William "T." Thompson is the president and CEO of the Association of Graduates; a non-profit organization that supports the Air Force Academy and its alumni. (U.S. Air Force photo)

William "T." Thompson is the president and CEO of the Association of Graduates; a non-profit organization that supports the Air Force Academy and its alumni. (U.S. Air Force photo)

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- On behalf of the Association of Graduates and the nearly 43,000 compatriots who have graduated from this great institution, I want to extend my hearty congratulations to the Class of 2011 and welcome you to the Academy graduate community. You have made it through four challenging years, and now you will take your place in the most technologically advanced Air Force in the history of the world. You are well prepared to achieve great success.

The graduates who have preceded you have left a proud and distinguished legacy of service to our nation and have done so in a relatively short period of time. In a mere 57 years, the Academy has become one of our country's greatest institutions, and you are about to become a part of that rich heritage.

In 52 classes, we have graduated more than 42,800 officers who have taken positions of leadership throughout our nation. In the Air Force, more than 580 have become general officers, including 31 four-star generals, three of whom have become chiefs of staff.

We have produced a plethora of war heroes including recipients of the Medal of Honor, Distinguished Flying Crosses and Silver Stars. The Academy produced two of the three Air Force Aces in Vietnam. Thirty-six graduates have been prisoners of war. And too many have made the ultimate sacrifice, with 177 graduates who have their names inscribed on the War Memorial.

Our graduates have also excelled in many other walks of life. Thirty-nine graduates have become astronauts, and three of the six astronauts on the recent Discovery mission were Air Force Academy grads. Thirty-seven of our graduates have become Rhode Scholars, and numerous others have won Fulbright, Harvard, Marshall and Truman scholarships. The Academy has produced doctors, attorneys, business leaders, and entrepreneurs.

Our graduates are members of the clergy, teachers, college presidents, and airline captains, most notably 1973 graduate Captain "Sully" Sullenberger of "Miracle on the Hudson" fame. Our graduates have served in elective office at the state and local level and even in Congress. In addition, many graduates have served in appointed positions at the highest levels of national government.

In short, we have placed our graduates in leadership positions throughout society; graduates who subscribe to our core values of Integrity First; Service Before Self; and Excellence In All We Do. And you are about to become a member of this august group.

You are graduating at a time of great challenge, and your leadership skills will be tested. The global economy is still challenged; we are fighting two foreign wars; terrorism is a constant threat, and our world faces genuine environmental perils. Yet the values you have adopted, the leadership abilities you have developed and the honor with which you have carried out your assignments for the past four years is exactly what our nation needs to overcome these obstacles. I have the highest confidence and trust in your capabilities and future contributions.

I know it has been a long four years, and you are ready to meet the new challenges that lie ahead. Yet I strongly urge you to stay connected to the institution that has given you such a unique opportunity. Join and become involved with the Association of Graduates. Help to support the many cadet programs that you have had an opportunity to experience: the leadership and character programs, the conferences and symposiums, intramurals and cadet clubs, and the foreign travel and language emersions programs, to mention just a few. Understand that you have the responsibility to reach back by giving back to the cadets that will follow you. Realize that you have an obligation to ensure that they enjoy a better opportunity than you have enjoyed just as prior grads have insured that you have had opportunities that didn't exist when we were cadets.

The AOG is proud to welcome you as members of the Long Blue Line and stand ready to assist you in any way we can. Contact us at www.usafa.org when we can ever be of service.