Gov. McDonnell Gives VMI Commencement Speech

Roanoke, VA - Nearly 300 cadets at VMI officially became graduates of the prestigious military academy. This year, more than half will accept commissions in the armed forces, a number that is not going down even though America's recent wars have started to close.

Governor Bob McDonnell was the keynote speaker at the commencement ceremony. McDonnell spoke about that fear of the unknown when a young person takes aim at an education at VMI.

It's uncertainty that has not gone away even as the number of certain deployments to a combat zone has dropped significantly.

Ten years ago, most of the commissioned cadets that graduated from VMI pretty much knew they would be going to war. While that isn't the case anymore, the reality of the world we live in will continue to keep these men, women and their families living in uncertainty but ready if the call does come.

"You still have all the terrorist bombings. Just look at the Boston Marathon. We always have to be ready. You never know when something is going to happen," said Ashley Gernhardt, a class od 2013 graduate.

McDonnell understands that fear and spoke directly to the graduates' families.

"Fact is you are probably more worried about it than they are. Because they have that great confidence of youth that they know after the four years that they've been trained at VMI that they're ready," said the governor.

Because even though the war in Iraq is over and the war in Afghanistan is in the process of drawing down, for these cadets, who literally grew up during war, it is how life is now.

"It's always going to be on the back of our minds, since we did live through it," said Gernhardt.

The Governor spoke about VMI graduate Dic Donohue, who was nearly killed in a gunfight with the Boston Bombing suspects.

"A strong example of the spirit and the valor of Virginia Military Institute," said McDonnell.

Reinforcement that is clear, even to those who believe that uncertain feeling is subsiding.

"We all know it's a possibility and we accept that and are okay with it. But it doesn't change how we go about our lives," said Randolph Keith Baird, a graduate.

VMI's commission rate has been consistently over the 50% mark for the past several years compared to rates around 40% at the beginning of last decade. In all, roughly 15% of all VMI graduates go on to make the military their career.

Update 11:40 a.m.:

Lexington, VA - Governor Bob McDonnell is in Lexington Thursday addressing the class of 2013 at VMI.

McDonnell took the podium at 11:30 a.m.

McDonnell attended the University of Notre Dame on an Army ROTC scholarship and served a total of 21 years in the Army on active duty and in Reserves.

Our David Tate is in Lexington and will have a full report on McDonnell's address on ABC 13 News at 5:30 p.m.

Lexington, VA - Governor McDonnell is heading to Lexington Thursday to give the commencement address at the Virginia Military Institute.
McDonnell has a history in the military.
He attended the University of Notre Dame on an Army ROTC scholarship.
He also served a total of 21 years in the Army on active duty and in Reserves.
VMI's commencement is Thursday at 11 a.m. in Cameron Hall.