RALEIGH, N.C. — This is graduation weekend in the Triangle, and current events gave Saturday's commencement messages a harder edge.
The controversy over pictures and alleged abuse of Iraqi prisoners of war highlighted the messages at Methodist College in Fayetteville and Peace College in Raleigh.
Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Hugh Shelton, a North Carolina native who spent five years at Fort Bragg, spoke at Methodist. He never explicitly mentioned the war in Iraq or prisoner abuse, but the underlying theme was there.
Graduates in caps and gowns and proud parents armed with cameras packed into the Methodist gymnasium to celebrate a milestone, and it seemed right to have a graduation speaker with strong military ties.
Shelton told the class of 2004 it takes strong morals to find success.
"I'm convinced that you can't be a great professor, a scientist and engineer, parent, teacher or even a soldier unless you possess a strong ethical character," Shelton said.
The retired general said the damage that can be cased by a lack of ethical character is evident in the turmoil sparked by photos of American soldiers allegedly abusing Iraqi prisoners.
"A few bad apples that we have seen recently have created a great embarrassment for everyone serving in uniform," he said, "have created an embarrassment for our nation."
Shelton said those acts do not represent the majority of military men and women. He swore in eight new military officers during Saturday's commencement ceremony and said they have a great challenge ahead of them.
"These heinous acts that these individuals have committed have tarnished the United States' reputation," he said. "They have tarnished the American people's view, I think, and in particular the outside world's view of those great values that make America the greatest country in the world."
Shelton reminded the graduates that the future of our country rests on their shoulders.
"Opportunity, courage and character will determine your role in making this a better world," he said.
Shelton told the crowd any soldiers who abused prisoners should, and he believes will, be punished.
The prison abuse scandal also was mentionned at Saturday's Peace College commencement.
Elizabeth Edwards, attorney and wife of Sen. John Edwards, delivered her first commencement speech at the college. She said the prison-abuse controversy prompted her to rewrite portions of her speech about living up to others' expectations.
Edwards told the 124 graduates to follow their own beacon and listen to their own voices about what is right.