WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Pomp and circumstance and words of wisdom from the secretary of state -- it is a day that graduates of Wake Forest University will long remember.
Secretary of State Colin Powell was greeted with a standing ovation before speaking before a crowd of 20,000 at Monday's 162nd commencement ceremony.
"Do the right thing. Do the right thing by setting your own internal standards of excellence, your own internal standards of behavior and making sure that you meet them and exceed them. Do the right thing even when you get no credit for it, even if you get hurt," he said.
Powell's message was about character, which he tied to the situation in Iraq and prison photos at Abu Ghraib.
"The world will see that we are still a nation with a moral code that defines our national character," Powell said. "Character ... always presses you to do the right thing"
"Our nation is now going through a period of deep disappointment, a period of deep pain over some of our soldiers not doing the right thing in a place called Abu Ghraib," he said.
Before the ceremony, graduates said they expected to hear the politics, but were eager to hear Powell's advice for them.
"I charge you to dedicate a part of your life to the service of others, to this country, to the world. I charge you to go forth from this place and be inspired by all those who have gone before you," Powell told the crowd assembled on the tree-lined quad.
The former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff personally shook the hands of 935 undergraduates who walked across the stage. Degrees were also given to 662 graduate and professional students.
Powell also helped commission ROTC graduates at the commencement and received an honorary doctors of law degree.
Before heading to the graduation, Powell met members of the
Wake County Boys and Girls Club
in a Winston-Salem airport hangar.
Powell, who admits he was not a great student, encouraged the children never to give up or lose focus in school. He said there is a career waiting for all of them, but they have to believe in themselves.