The Chief of Engineers traded his Army Service Uniform for a cap and gown as he gave the commencement address to the 2014 graduating class at Tuskegee University.

During his trip to Tuskegee, Ala., May 9-10, Lt. Gen. Thomas Bostick, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), also commissioned 12 ROTC cadets as military officers, and took part in a memorandum of agreement (MOU) ceremony between USACE and Tuskegee University. The university presented Bostick with an honorary Doctorate of Engineering degree.

During the graduation ceremony on May 10, Bostick emphasized how the military and education institutions sustain our democracy, and the importance of the graduates supporting both.

"The military is regarded by many as a pathway to advancement; a profession where individual merit is recognized and rewarded," Bostick told more than 430 graduates and a capacity crowd of 3,000 in the Gen. Daniel "Chappie" James Center for Aerospace Science and Health Education. "Our nation's Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen represent a diverse group of races and ethnicities who volunteered to serve and, if necessary, to lay down their life for our country. The military provides many minorities an opportunity to be measured by their competence, commitment and character rather than the color of their skin. It has not always been that way."

Bostick spoke of minority military pioneers such as the Tuskegee Airmen, the Buffalo Soldiers, the Navajo code talkers and the Japanese-American soldiers of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. "Today, our United States armed forces are a reflection of our society. As we are gathered together, there are many in our military serving in distant lands, on point for our nation, so that we have the freedom to celebrate this day together."

Bostick asked the audience to join him in recognizing the 12 ROTC officers that he commissioned the day before, and told the graduates "While few in America will serve in our military, everyone can support our troops. As you graduate, think about your role in ensuring that our military sustains our democracy."

On the topic of education, Bostick referenced Booker T. Washington, who founded Tuskegee University in 1881.

"Booker T. Washington, George Washington Carver, and those who followed in their footsteps became mentors, role models and nation builders," Bostick said. "Nation builders committed to providing an education to any and all young people willing to meet the challenge. To the graduates, your commitment to support education in America whether as an educator, a parent, a volunteer or in another capacity will be your contribution to help sustain our democracy."

--ROTC commissioning--

On May 9, Bostick administered the oath of service to 12 ROTC graduates during the Joint Officer Commissioning Ceremony at the University Chapel. Seven were commissioned as second lieutenants in the Army, two as ensigns in the Navy, and three as second lieutenants in the Air Force.

In his keynote address, Bostick said "You are part of the less than 1 percent of America that decided to put on a uniform," he said. "You will serve and sacrifice, and we thank you."

He also gave some advice about leadership. He said that communicating effectively, continuing their education and taking care of their troops were important. "Take care of those you lead and their families," Bostick said. "It's never too hard to take care of your troops."

--Memorandum of understanding--

All of the university's STEM-related college deans (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) briefed Bostick on May 9 about their efforts to produce STEM graduates. In addition, Col. Donald Walker, commander of South Atlantic Division, signed an MOU with Tuskegee University to produce more STEM graduates.

The agreement states, "The supporting relationship is established in recognition of the importance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) to the future political and economic well-being of the nation."

Bostick said, "We think the research and development that USACE does with universities is important. Our focus in this area of diversity is a team effort."

(Tuskegee University press releases contributed to this article.)