Lt. Gen. Elder's Commencement 2008 Address

Lt. Gen. Elder
Lt. Gen. Robert J. Elder Jr., delivers the commencement address May 10 at the Gold Dome to the Class of 2008.
Elder is the Commander of 8th Air Force at Barksdale Air Force Base in Bossier City, La.
—photo by Sherry Heflin

SHREVEPORT, La. — The Commander of 8th Air Force, Lt. Gen. Robert J. Elder Jr., addressed the graduating class of 2008 Saturday, May 10, during Commencement at the Gold Dome. Besides commanding the "Mighty Eighth," Lt. Gen. Elder is the Joint Functional Component Commander for Global Strike and Integration, U.S. Strategic Command, Offutt AFB, Neb. He is also a command pilot with more than 4,000 combat hours and holds a doctorate in engineering from the University of Detroit.

During his address, Elder explained the importance of cyberspace to the graduates and how it touches the everyday lives of not only those graduating, but everyone around them. Many of the graduates, he said, will forge new paths in the state and across the country and the globe as they exploit the opportunities presented by development of the cyber domain.

"Many people see an obvious connection between technology and cyberspace, but it is equally important to those of you who will enter careers grounded in the liberal arts curriculum you experienced here," said Elder. "Whether you are a graphic designer using modern computerized systems and networks to design and publish your ideas, or a musician using state of the art recording studios and software to digitally create music and share it by streaming over internet radio, or a pre-law student using electronic libraries and inter-school networks for research, you will increasingly rely on cyberspace to succeed. It is changing the way we conduct business."

Family members and friends were also thanked during his address, because without their support, he continued, many of the graduates would not have had this opportunity to pursue and achieve a degree. "Graduates, you can see by the number of attendees at this ceremony that you have many people who care about you and are cheering you on as you transition from student to graduate."

The general also thanked the faculty and staff for the long hours and their commitment to education. The country, he said, depends on the highest quality of educators. "Some of the country’s best can be found right here."

The following is the address from Lt. Gen. Elder to the class of 2008:

Thanks for the kind introduction, Dr. Schwab. Thank you to everyone here, the Board of Regents; it really is an honor to be here today.

Members of the faculty and staff, family and friends, and most importantly, today’s graduates, I am honored to be here today speaking to you – the people that represent the future of our nation, the best and brightest treasure we have.

Centenary has long been an outstanding center for education. Its legacy stands on the shoulders of past graduates who have gone on to distinguished careers in education, science, government, business, the performing arts, and the list goes on. And today, you continue the proud tradition that started in 1825 and this year celebrates its 100th year at the Shreveport Campus.

Centenary is the oldest chartered liberal arts college west of the Mississippi River, and here boasts 43 majors in the arts and sciences as well as a variety of pre-professional courses. The "Centenary Plan," which I am a product of a similar program in engineering — is an ambitious, experiential co-curricular program — and provides students practical knowledge that arms them for success when they start their careers, and instills in them the ideal of responsible citizenship within both the local and global community. You can take pride that this school is regularly rated as one of the top colleges in the South. Centenary’s commitment to provide a world-class liberal arts education is clearly evident, from the striking Magale Library to the Meadows Museum of Art to the Marjorie Lyons Playhouse, which recently celebrated its 50th anniversary.

We are here to witness the conferring of degrees upon those gathered here today who have earned the right to be called, "graduate." Today’s event marks a great milestone in these graduates lives and it is fitting to pause and reflect on what brought them to this unique place and time, and to look forward to where their diverging paths may take them.

It seems like just yesterday that I participated in my own commencement ceremonies. I recall having a sense of pride in having completed my course of study, a bit of trepidation that I was leaving the comfort of the education environment, and a sense of excitement about the future. I had some ideas about the direction my career might take me, and even some goals, but I never would have imagined the twists and turns that I experienced since I graduated over thirty years ago. You are about to embark on a great adventure! Of course the one thing I remember about my commencement speaker 35 years ago was how long he was going to talk!

As the commander of Eighth Air Force, I oversee deterrence operations involving bombers, intelligence collection, and battle management platforms. But I also have been given a unique and challenging responsibility in the Air Force– to defend, control and exploit a domain we call, "Cyberspace." Developments in the cyber domain are changing our world and will affect your future, regardless of the path your career takes you.

There is a wide range of thought about the extent of cyberspace. A typical response to the question "What is cyberspace?" usually involves some description of computer networks or the internet. The military’s definition of cyberspace, however, recognizes that cyberspace involves much more than just these computer networks. It is a very real, physical domain for commerce and warfighting, with characteristics comparable to the domains based on the environments of land, sea, air, and space.

For example, the maritime domain comprises the sea as its medium, ships to carry cargo from place to place, and extensive port and warehouse infrastructure. Lines of communication exist between ports. Collectively, these lines of communication form transportation networks. Because of the need to protect our shipping, we have a navy. In the cyber domain, the medium is the electromagnetic spectrum. Electronic systems form "packets" which are used to transport data from one system node to another. The path from one electronic system to another forms a communication link; collectively, these links among multiple nodes form networks. Like the maritime domain, there is an extensive infrastructure involving fiber, microwave links, server farms, and data warehouses. Cyber is now becoming the preferred domain for the conduct of commerce. As a result, we now recognize that we have a need to protect cyberspace just as we protect our other domains, and so the Nation is developing cyber forces to serve this need.

You don’t have to look too far or too deeply to see that cyberspace touches our everyday lives and is affecting our work in virtually every career field. I guarantee that each of the graduates here today relied heavily on cyberspace in one form or another to achieve their degree and will continue utilizing it in their fields. Just ask Laura Pryor, one of today’s graduates, if she could have compiled the research for her paper analyzing the economics of attendance at Major League baseball games without the benefit of cyberspace. Today, our knowledge of cyberspace leverages the foundational work in the area of visual arts, which is one of the leading majors here at Centenary. Many of you here today will forge new paths in the state and across the country and the globe as you exploit the opportunities presented by development of the cyber domain.

Many people see an obvious connection between technology and cyberspace, but it is equally important to those of you who will enter careers grounded in the liberal arts curriculum you experienced here. Whether you are a graphic designer using modern computerized systems and networks to design and publish your ideas, or a musician using state of the art recording studios and software to digitally create music and share it by streaming over internet radio, or a pre-law student using electronic libraries and inter-school networks for research, you will increasingly rely on cyberspace to succeed. It is changing the way we conduct business.

Even though most of us clearly recognize the current impact of the cyber domain, we are often left wondering what the future will bring, and more importantly, how to prepare for success. We only to look at the past five years to see the exponential rate of technology growth. Just think about the technologies and cyber-dependent business practices that didn’t exist at the start of your program that are now available. You should ask yourself, what will you do to ensure you remain flexible and adaptable enough to keep up with the rapidly changing realm of cyber?

Even though this domain we call "Cyberspace" is evolving and changing and there is really no possible way of knowing exactly what it will look like in the future, there are a couple of things we can say about the future with certainty.

First is that today’s view and understanding of cyberspace will be obsolete in a short time. Moore’s Law tells us that on average, technology doubles every 18 months. Could our forbearers of the 19th century have envisioned a world of flying aircraft, computer technology, spaceflight, internet, DVD player and microwave ovens? Similarly, we cannot predict with precision what our technologies and culture will look like 20, 50, or 100 years from now.

Secondly, we know that our dependence on cyber will continue to grow. We will become ever more reliant on the use of networked electronic systems in our everyday lives, and trends indicate that more and more of these systems will be operating over wireless networks.

In the 1800s, the Great Powers grew as a result of sea travel and the emergence of the maritime domain for commerce. The 20th century saw the airplane usher in a new age of global commerce which led to the rise of the United States as an international power. We’ve already seen the internet has already enabled a new global economy, and with the growth in cyber, we are seeing the growth of knowledge-based economies in China, India, and other countries around the world. The United States business community must evolve from an industrial mindset based on hierarchies to the networked approach that is enabling knowledge-based economies to grow so quickly around the world.

So, those of us who grew up in the industrial age, and I am looking to this side of the stage, look to those of you who are creatures of the cyber age to understand and harness the potential of this quickly evolving domain. Graduates, I challenge you to take advantage of your natural comfort with use of cyberspace to help your employers and your nation remain competitive in the global economy. If you can learn to exploit these rapidly emerging technologies, if you can learn to take advantage of new ideas and practices, if you can be flexible and remain open to change, your skills and talents will remain in high demand. You will be rewarded with better paying jobs, better opportunities for advancement, more career choices, more favorable working conditions, and perhaps most importantly, enjoy a sense of self fulfillment.

When I look at you today, I see great potential. You have taken a very important step: You have completed a rigorous course of study at a prestigious institution. It is important that you recognize that while this is a commencement exercise, it is just the beginning of your studies. Keep exercising your mind. Don’t lose your passion for knowledge.

Now Dr. Schwab has already done this, but I I’d like to take this opportunity to express my appreciation to each of the family members and friends who are here to support these graduates. Without you, these folks would not have had this opportunity to pursue and achieve a degree. I have a daughter graduating from college next week, and I know that at least one telephone call was helpful to her over the past years. Graduates, you can see by the number of attendees at this ceremony that you have many people who care about you and are cheering you on as you transition from student to graduate.

I’d like to thank the faculty and staff here at Centenary for their commitment to education. This country depends on the highest quality of educators and some of the country’s best can be found right here. Just this month, five of your finest on the faculty were honored after the recent publication of their books. Of note was Dr. David Bedard’s, "I Remember Quan Loi," recounting his experience in Vietnam and the personal changes he experienced as a result of his time there.

You’ve already done this one, but I would like to one more time, take this opportunity to thank the I’d like to invite the graduates and their families to join me in thanking all the Centenary professors and staff for investing long hours and expending great energy to impart their knowledge and understanding to their students. Thank you.

Thank you again, Dr. Schwab and the Centenary faculty for your gracious invitation to speak here today. It has truly been my privilege and honor to share just a few thoughts with you.

Finally, congratulations to all of the graduates. As you leave Centenary College of Louisiana today, please accept my best wishes for health, happiness, success, and an exciting future. You have great reason to celebrate today. Good luck and God speed!

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