March 26, 2013
By C. L. Max Nikias

Good evening, everyone. Niki and I are delighted to be here. This is a very special event for the USC community, one we look forward to every year.

It’s our opportunity to express something we feel every single day on our campuses: sincere gratitude to you—our Trojan veterans and spouses, and our members of the ROTC. We’re particularly excited to be hosting 200 more people than we’ve had at any previous veterans’ dinner.

This event is only a few years old, but USC’s support of service members is longstanding.

During World War I, the university became a training school for Army officers, a dynamic center for developing leadership, strength, and courage.

Later, during World War II, USC expanded this role significantly, and served as a naval preparatory flight cadet school, while hosting Army, Marine Corps, and Navy training programs.

Following the war, so many veterans returned home, and were eager to take advantage of the GI Bill. USC welcomed them with open arms.

Consider these numbers: Before Pearl Harbor, USC’s total student enrollment stood at 6,000. But following the war, this number skyrocketed, and in 1947 our total enrollment reached 24,000—the overwhelming majority of which were former servicemen.

To meet their needs, our faculty worked a double shift, from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., and classes were even held on Saturdays. In 1945 alone, 111 new faculty were hired!

We brought in old army barracks from a nearby training camp, and these served as classrooms and laboratory space. (In fact, the last two remaining barracks on our campus remained until only 11 years ago, when during my tenure as dean, we had to clear the site for a new building.).

These veterans ultimately became distinguished alumni and major donors to USC, and helped build our university into the great, world-class institution it is today. Since then, veterans have returned from Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

Today, USC enrolls 444 veterans! They—you!—have contributed so much to our community—and to the defense and security of the United States. In return, USC proudly supports its veterans with a range of outstanding initiatives, including the USC Veterans Association, the USC Veterans Certifying Office, and Transfer and Veterans Student Programs.

We also offer financial support through The Schoen Family Scholarship Program for Veterans Endowment. This was created with a remarkably generous $15 million gift from Mr. William Schoen—an illustrious USC trustee, alumnus, Marine, and veteran of the Korean War—and his beloved wife Sharon, both of whom join us this evening.

One more person I would like to recognize this evening is our trustee, The Honorable Jane Harman. She introduced me to General David Petraeus a year ago, giving me the opportunity to invite him to be our keynote speaker tonight.

To our veterans, their spouses, and our ROTC students, please know you are part of a university that honors and respects your stellar service.

We see this in the exceptional training we provide through our highly regarded military social work program. Through this, we prepare individuals to provide a full range of services to our nation’s military personnel, veterans, and their families, helping them cope with the complex stresses of military life, including prolonged deployments and transitioning back to a home environment.

In fact, I recently traveled to Washington, D.C., along with a delegation of USC trustees and senior administrators. We met with the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Eric K. Shinseki, who told us his department is deeply impressed by USC and appreciative of our university. He said USC is a role model for other universities across the country, and warmly praised our outreach, research, and commitment to veterans and their families.

Without question, USC is a leader, and I want to offer my own praise for Dean Marilyn Flynn of our School of Social Work, and Dean Jack Knott of our Price School of Public Policy, both of whom join us this evening. Their dedication inspires so many in the USC community, and reflects the esteem with which we hold you and your extraordinary contributions.

We see this same esteem in the special place ROTC has in our community.
USC’s ROTC program dates back to 1943, and currently numbers 130 future officers in four branches: Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, and Navy.

And I want to remind everybody—with great pride—that USC’s relationship with ROTC remains unbroken. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, USC and one other private university were the only two universities in the nation that maintained their relationship with ROTC. We never kicked ROTC off our campus.

Today, ROTC stands at the heart of USC, and I can see its offices from the window of my office. This is a fitting place for a venerable group.

To all of you gathered here, I offer the abiding gratitude of your Trojan Family. We say it today, but we feel it every day.

Fight On!

* * *
And now, I have the honor of introducing a true American patriot, someone familiar to all of us: General David Howell Petraeus.

General Petraeus is the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and a highly decorated four-star general, having served more than 37 years in the United States Army.

When historians examine the breadth of his service, the strength of his courage, and the scope of his leadership, a number of superlatives quickly emerge. Many argue that he is the most effective military commander since General Dwight D. Eisenhower, and draw comparisons with our nation’s most decorated battle captains: Ulysses S. Grant, John J. Pershing, and George Marshall.

In our post-9/11 world, General Petraeus’ influence on our military is unmatched. He completely reshaped American military tactics, and promoted our nation’s counter-insurgency strategy. His pioneering approach focused less on force, and more on protecting the lives of civilians. Indeed, the evocative phrase—“winning the hearts and minds of the people”—reflected the spirit of his strategy.

During the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he became the face of America’s military, the key strategist behind the 2007 troop surge. That same year, Time magazine ranked him among its runners-up for Person of the Year, and a few months later, the German magazine Der Spiegel named him “America’s most respected soldier.”

Later, during his tenure with the CIA, he fostered closer ties with the military. He took the long view. He imagined the world in 15 years—as the United States deals with counter-terrorism, as well as new concerns from the Pacific Rim, the Eurozone, and beyond. It was the world he foresaw that guided his leadership, and our nation’s security remains the beneficiary.

General Petraeus’ badges and decorations are both numerous and impressive. They include the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, Army Distinguished Service Medal, Defense Superior Service Medal, and Legion of Merit.

General Petraeus is a graduate of the United States Military Academy, and earned an M.P.A. and a Ph.D. from Princeton University.

Ladies and gentlemen, I have the privilege and distinct honor of presenting to you our distinguished speaker, General David Petraeus.