Retired army general David Petraeus, former commander of American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan and director of the CIA, delivered Colgate’s Family Weekend keynote speech in Memorial Chapel, October 28.
Petraeus, whose visit was sponsored by the Center for Freedom and Western Civilization, spoke to the crowd about the state of the world and strategic challenges to American national security and foreign policy.
According to Petraeus, American leadership in the second half of the 20th century wrought economic prosperity, the spread of democracy, and longstanding peace between great powers. But, said Petraeus, “the international order that America created is now under unprecedented threats from multiple directions.”
In spite of those threats, Petraeus said, “I do believe that America is still in a commanding position to sustain and indeed bolster the international order that has served us, and, paradoxically, some of those seeking to change it, so well.”
The country’s source of strength, according to the general, lies in its network of alliances, vibrant economy, political values, and appeal to immigrants.
Bringing his words back to the most pressing issues facing students on a daily basis at home, Petraeus offered advice to combat “Groundhog Day syndrome,” or a feeling of being trapped in a set grind.
“Look down at where you are and what you’re doing, and remind yourself of the extraordinary privileges you enjoy,” he said. “You are at one of America’s greatest private universities in one of our country’s most stunningly beautiful areas with a lot of fellow overachievers.”
The general’s speech was one of the highlights of a packed Family Weekend agenda, which showcased that greatness and beauty. Family members and students sat in classes together, enjoyed a barbeque on Whitnall Field, attended concerts by the university’s a cappella groups, and tailgated before Colgate’s football team took down Bucknell, 40–3. Men’s hockey was also victorious in Family Weekend competition at home.
The atmosphere of excitement and achievement underscored Petraeus’s exhortation to his audience as students head toward final exams: “Pat yourself on the back, acknowledge your incredibly good fortune, get back to ground level, shoulder your rucksack, and pick up the pace.”