Daniel Ford was a graduate of the University of New Hampshire and returned to its 2015 commencement address. He was curious how the crowd would react to the speech of 29-year-old Ryan Pitts. In 2008, then Army Sgt. Pitts was deployed in Afghanistan. In his editorial in the Wall Street Journal on May 21, 2015, Ford described how Pitts and his fellow troops were on an observation post on a hill in the Hindu Kush Mountains when they were attacked by a large force. Although being wounded in the forehead, one arm and both legs, Sgt. Pitts continued to defend their post, at times tossing hand grenades at the opposing forces within 10 feet of his location.
He fought on because he knew his brothers in arms were counting on him. Two attempts were made by reinforcements to come to their aid, but all were killed or wounded. In the end, he was the sole survivor. In July 2014, he was awarded the Medal of Honor.
He returned to the University of New Hampshire and graduated two years ago with highest honors. In delivering the commencement address he had the following observations about courage:
“Courage is not the absence of fear; it is the ability to move forward in the face of it. There is beauty in this definition, because courage can exist in the decisions we make every day. Courage exists in the individual who accepts who they are and openly lives the life they want in the face of rejection. Courage exists in those who challenge their own perceptions in the face of accepting they are not infallible. Be courageous and appreciate courage in others who take action in the face of fear… Never forget those who helped you reach where you are.”
He received three standing ovations.
Each of us faces perplexing, daunting or seemingly insurmountable issues in our lives that often gives birth to fear. While fear has its place in alerting us to the issues we face, we must courageously move forward in the face of it. Otherwise we will never earn the rewards.