A Commencement Address Edit

When they asked me to give this commencement address, I have to confess — I had no idea why. No one told me that people on Earth had been watching vids from the battle of Chepren, or that I had become some kind of celebrity back here on the home front. Working and living on the line, it’s easy to forget that civilians only get very sporadic battle reports, and that combat footage is rare. One man doing his duty in one little scrap probably comes across as something special, if he happens to end up in the one vid you see all year.

I’ve been very surprised and more than a little embarrassed by my reception for the past few days. I appreciate men who want to shake my hand or women who want to kiss me on the mouth, Lord knows! But from my point of view, I’m just a working man taking a paid vacation. There are countless men and women in SolForce who make greater sacrifices and harder choices than any you’ll ever see on a vid — and while I’m standing here in this fancy uniform surrounded by gardenias, they’re up there right now in the Black, doing a job which is, for the most part, hard and dangerous and unglamorous as hell.

Believe me, in my own eyes, I am no hero. So when you look up at me, try not to wear magnifying glasses. I’m just one of many who wear this uniform, and wear it with pride.

Looking out into the crowd today, I see a lot of girls and boys who are the same age that I was, when I first joined up. I can tell by the look in your eyes that some of you — more than a few — are considering a career in SolForce, or wanting to ship out to the outer colonies. And I am wondering what to say to you. What I would say to my younger self, if I knew he was sitting out there today.

If you’ve seen the vids, you know the risks — or you think you do. But I’ll tell you right now, you won’t really feel it until you see that fireball bloom in the black, with the silhouette of a Human being swimming in vac, and know that the person you just saw die was someone you knew. We lost thirteen ships of the line at Chepren, and I can name every one of them — hell, I can list off half the crew. I served with those people. They were my friends. Some of them had kids your age — some of them were kids themselves.

Not one of them wanted to die. And every one of them will be missed.

I can’t lie to you, and tell you it’s all gardenias and glory out there. Most of the good days are just plain boring. Most of the bad days are just plain hell. And every day, good or bad, I know that the next time the fireball blooms? It could be me taking the Big Swim. And if you join up, it could be you.

That’s the downside, and it’s a big one, I’m sure you’ll agree.

On the other hand, boys and girls, everyone has to die. But not everyone gets to see a new sun rising over the mountains of a new world before they kick. Not everyone gets to turn the universe inside out and go node–hopping out among the stars. Not everyone gets to turn his guns on a genuine alien menace and blow it out of the Black. And not everyone gets to see the future of his whole damn species unfold, and help to shape it.

Only the people who wear this uniform get to do all that. That’s why I put it on, all those years ago — and why I’ll never take it off, until I’m dead or just too damn old to be any good.

Of all the questions that people ask me, since I made planetfall, there’s only one I don’t understand. Floors me every time. Whenever someone says to me, “What are we doing out in space? Why are we out there?” I can only shake my head.

It’s just another thing that can’t be explained in words. I was born to wear this uniform. From the time I was a little boy to this very day, I have never looked up at the stars at night without knowing that I belonged among them. That we ALL belong along them — the whole Human race.

And if I have to fight for my place in the scheme of things? Then I will. Today is your graduation day, but SolForce is a commencement exercise for our entire species. And if any of you feel the way I do, I want you to know that there’s a place for you in SolForce, and I’ll be proud and happy to serve beside you.

If I’m some kind of hero — so are you.

And I’ll see you out in the Black.