Commencement Weekend May 15-17, 2009 - Julius Wesley Becton, Jr.
The Conferring of Honorary Degrees
Julius Wesley Becton, Jr.
Citation Presented by James M. Hoefler, Professor of Political Science
Conferring of the degree by William G. Durden, President
A remarkable life, lived by a remarkable soldier. These are the words Colin Powell used to describe the honorary degree recipient who stands before us today: Julius W. Becton Jr., Lt. General, U.S. Army, Retired.
General Becton, you wore three stars on your shoulders. Only one soldier in 10,000 rises to your lofty rank. George Washington was a three-star. So was U.S. Grant, so you are in pretty good company. You are also in a company unto yourself, as the first black man in the history of the United States to command an Army corps. Not too bad for a kid with working-class roots, who joined a segregated Army in a Jim Crow world as a private in the closing days of World War II.
Reading your biography is like taking a somber walk through the war memorial monuments on our national mall: World War II . . . Korea . . . . Vietnam. . . . Your military honors are as numerous as they are impressive: The Distinguished Service Medal; two Silver Stars; two Legion of Merit medals; two Purple Hearts.
Service to your country and the cause of citizenship did not end with your retirement in 1983, though. You were FEMA director when the assembled graduates-to-be were born. You served as a public university president when they were in first grade. You were superintendent of the DC public school system as they approached their middle school years. All together, you have spent 40 years in uniformed service, 25 more years in civilian public service, and just as importantly, 60 years in partnership with your lovely wife Louise, who is with us here today.
General Becton, you have always been a shining example of the best this county has to offer. One of the young men under your command said it as well as anyone could, in a letter he wrote you years later:
As a young soldier, I realized that in motivating soldiers, you engaged their minds and their hearts. You motivated people by example—and by excitement, by having provocative ideas to make others feel involved. Thank you… for including me in the effort! Fixed Bayonets, Sir!
You don’t meet an American hero every day. I’m pretty sure I had never met one. . . . until I met the general. Sir, I am a former Air Force officer, so I don’t know anything about fixing bayonets, but I surely remember how to salute. Mr. President, it is my honor to present General Julius W. Becton Jr., U.S. Army Retired, for the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Public Service. [I will salute the general as the president moves forward.]
Julius Wesley Becton, Jr., upon the recommendation of the Faculty to the Board of Trustees, and by its mandamus, I confer upon you the Degree of Doctor of Public Service, honoris causa, with all the rights, privileges, and distinction thereunto appertaining, in token of which I present you with this diploma and cause you to be invested with the hood of Dickinson College appropriate to the degree.
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