Col. Gary Steele, the first African American to play varsity football at West Point, opened the 2021-22 school year as the 131st Convocation keynote speaker in the Clara Schrenk Memorial Chapel on Sept. 8th.
Unlike the 2020 Convocation a year ago which had a keynote speaker but no audience because of the pandemic, with only a small group watching it and others watching virtually off campus, Steele spoke before a full house of students, trustees, faculty and staff, alumni, and friends.
Steele gave inspired words of encouragement and advice to the students encouraging them to pursue their lives with integrity.
He told them that the West Point Cadet Prayer, which says “Make us to choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong, and never to be content with a half truth when the whole truth can be won,” should serve as their guide through life.
He told the students that they know the right thing and should just go ahead and do it. “Don’t doubt Williamson and what it’s doing for you. You are where you should be and need to be.”
He said we all are standing on the shoulders of those who came before us and they should think about whose shoulders they are standing on. Steele said he is standing on the shoulders of his mother, father, and the first African American to enter West Point in the 1940s.
He pointed out that the students will do well if they live by the school’s core values – faith, integrity, diligence, excellence, and service.
He closed with four takeaways: You are standing on the shoulders of someone who went before you, whose shoulders are you standing on?; how are you going to live the rest of your life? It’s not always your successes that define you, it could be what you do with your failures that truly does; you already know the right thing to do, you just need to do it; and have loyalty to your brothers and sisters.
President Michael Rounds, in his introduction of Steele said, in his 23-year military career he held various human resources leadership and operational support positions, serving in the Panama Canal Zone, Greece, and Belgium. He commanded at the battalion level and closed his career at the School for Advanced Military Studies at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
In the civilian world, he has over 30 years of extensive national and international human resources experience, in the military, education, telecommunications, and pharmaceutical sectors. He worked at the Kansas City Missouri School District, Citizens Communications in Connecticut, and Pfizer Pharmaceuticals.
He earned a master’s degree in international relations at Boston University, holds a number of professional certifications, and is a Greek linguist.
At the conclusion of his remarks, Rounds presented him with a Williamson keepsake box with a rendering of Rowan Hall on the lid.
In his opening remarks, Rounds said “We have always been blessed with an outstanding and dedicated faculty and staff, and I was never more proud of them than last school year when they rose to the challenge and helped keep the school open the entire year.”
He also said he considers it a great honor to be starting his ninth year as president and that he and his wife Mary Nell are as excited to be part of the school as when they started.
In her welcoming remarks, Michelle Williams, Ed.D., said “I welcome you to the start of a new academic year at Williamson. Let us remember what a great blessing Williamson is in all of our lives. We are all part of the mission of the Williamson school. Students, you have a tremendous opportunity, make each day count.”
Another part of the Convocation was the presentation of faculty emeritus status to Daniel Hiltebeitel, former director of construction technology-masonry, who taught at Williamson from 1998 to 2016.
In making the presentation, Williams said that faculty emeritus is an honor that goes to faculty who have left Williamson with an indelible mark on the community. “Dan Hiltebeitel was among several larger than life shop directors who were no nonsense individuals who were not afraid to speak their mind and had a passion for their trade.”
“Dan did it the loudest and the longest. He proclaimed the benefits of his trade to the point that some called him the evangelist of masonry because he sold his program so well. Williamson owes Dan a big debt of gratitude for his service to the college.”
A number of Hiltebeitel’s former students from several years were on hand to see him honored.
Convocation opened with an invocation from Mark Specht 7W7, chaplain; a responsorial psalm and pledge of allegiance from Sean Howat, assistant chaplain; and a scripture reading from James McChesney, senior class president. The Artisans led the audience in the singing of the alma mater and Specht closed the event with a benediction.