Class of 2015: Your legacy begins now

Brig. Gen. Stephen Williams, the U.S. Air Force Academy's commandant of cadets. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Brig. Gen. Stephen Williams, the U.S. Air Force Academy's commandant of cadets. (U.S. Air Force photo)

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- Looking back on the 9,493 days since the I graduated with the Air Force Academy's Class of 1989, the world has become a vastly different place. The Soviet Union collapsed years ago, Iraq and Afghanistan were not countries talked about commonly, let alone that we are still there after two major wars, and the New York City skyline held the second and third tallest buildings, untouched by bombs or aircraft.

Twenty-six years later, as the Class of 2015 steps out into the Air Force, it enters a world dominated by news of al Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and constant combat since Sept. 11, 2001.

As you, the Class of 2015 -- the Wright Brothers class -- leave the Academy, reflect on the 1,435 days since you arrived and look back even further. Why did you apply to the Air Force Academy? Why did you arrive on in-processing day? Why did you stay after basic cadet training or your first semester or recognition as a cadet? What made you commit to the Academy and to the Air Force? Your response today will be different from those you had upon arrival in 2011, because you have been inundated with the words "integrity," "service," "excellence," "honor," "wingman" and "Airman." These are not just buzz words -- they indicate who you are and who you should be. They have helped develop you into the leader you are today.

Your class shared heartbreak and success. Each challenge made you stronger and helped you move forward. Since 2011, you have served two superintendents, two deans, two athletic directors and three commandants. The Academy celebrated its 60th anniversary and wildfires threatened to bring us down, and yet we prepare to finish construction on our Center for Character and Leadership Development.

Your growth from cadet to officer bears witness to the rise of The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and the drawdown of operations in Afghanistan. I cannot predict what the future holds for our Air Force, but I can say with certainty that you will be tested and expected to succeed. 

Throughout your career, the Air Force core values - integrity, service and excellence - will guide you. Allow these values to serve as your moral compass for they epitomize what every other Airman, from the chief of staff of the Air Force to Joint-Base San Antonio's newest basic military training graduates, expect from you as officers. Integrity, service and excellence are the minimum you owe them.

Remember the Airman's Creed, which brings together every Airman, officer and enlisted. It is not about the career specialty we hold or the unit we belong to -- it's about the charge we are sworn to uphold as American Airmen. Let these two principals define you as you carry out the mission to "Fly, Fight, and Win..."

Celebrate and reflect today on your accomplishments as a cadet. What did you do as a cadet? Did you make the most of every opportunity or did you barely get through the Academy's rigorous academic and military training? I hope every newly-minted second lieutenant here graduates with a smile on their face. Let that smile be in anticipation of the journey you now begin in our great Air Force. Value everything the Academy has taught you. It is not just the academic classes, intramural or intercollegiate sports, nor is it only the military training you have received; it is the sum of all these and the leadership and moral growth you have achieved. Graduates of the Air Force Academy should be the most enthusiastic of all Air Force lieutenants. 

I am very proud of the Class of 2015. You have led the Class of 2018's journey, encouraged and mentored the Class of 2016, and set the standard for cadets to follow. Your Air Force journey is just beginning. You are now an officer trusted with great responsibility for yourself and privileged to lead Airmen in service to our nation.  Earn that privilege every day.

More than 1,100 high school graduates showed up here June 23, 2011 and less than 860 surpassed the challenges we had laid out before you. During the years to come, remember our core values and internalize the Airman's Creed, "I am an American Airman...." Congratulations to the entire Class of 2015. Your journey and your legacy begin now.