From Secretary of State Colin L. Powell's commencement address delivered at Wake Forest University, May 17, 2004.

Today is another day of celebration, besides your graduation, and that is the anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision known forever as Brown v. the Board of Education of 1954.

You youngsters are too young to realize this, but back then, I wouldn't be here; and I wouldn't even be sitting there.

Well, look how much has changed. Look what this law has done for us. Look how this law has changed America for the better, how the law showed, again, to the world how the American people can look in a mirror and see their own reflection, and when they don't like that reflection, because of our democratic system, because of the nature of our founding documents, because of our Constitution and our courts, we can change things for the better.

So while we celebrate this landmark piece of legislation, and we take comfort in what we've accomplished over the last 50 years, let's not take too much comfort because we all know the struggle is not over; the struggle will never be over until every youngster in America has the opportunity for a quality education wherever they may live, whatever their circumstances. We must remain committed, as the President has said, to leaving no child behind.

In my profession, soldiering, character is perhaps the most important trait we seek and expect in our leaders, character which inspires trust in others, character which gives confidence to others to follow you into the darkest night, character which keeps you pointed towards true north no matter what winds or waves come to try to push you off course onto the shoals of doubt, dishonesty and despair, character which always presses you to do the right thing.

Do the right thing. Simple words. Childhood words. And you've heard it since childhood. You've heard it a thousand times as you grew up and many times here at Wake Forest. But it's still just as valuable a piece of advice as you'll ever receive. Always 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 by doing the right thing. Do the right thing when no one is watching or will ever know about it. You will always know.

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 at a place called Abu Ghraib. I spent a good part of my time in Jordan this past weekend dealing with this problem and the terrible impact it has had on our image in the world. I told the audiences that I spoke to over the weekend that all Americans deplored what happened there and there could be no excuse. But I also told them that one soldier had done the right thing. He knew something wrong was happening and he spoke out. He told his commanders, who immediately began an investigation.

I also told them that in their disappointment about America right now. Watch America. Watch how we deal with this. Watch how America will do the right thing. Watch what a nation of values and character, a nation that believes in justice, does to right this kind of wrong. Watch how a nation such as ours will not tolerate such actions.

I told them that they will see a free press and an independent Congress at work. They will see a Defense Department led by Secretary Rumsfeld that will launch multiple investigations to get to the facts. Above all, they will see a President -- our President, President Bush -- determined to find out where responsibility and accountability lie. And justice will be done. The world will see that we are still a nation with a moral code that defines our national character.

Above all, I told them, remember that in Iraq today there are tens of thousands of young American soldiers and diplomats who are putting their lives on the line daily for the freedom of the Iraqi people. They are fighting terrorists and regime remnants. They are building hospitals and schools. They are repairing water plants and oil facilities. They are helping to build democratic institutions where none ever existed previously. They are teaching a people about freedom and democracy. They are working to help Iraqis rebuild a country that was devastated by Saddam Hussein during a tyrannical reign of 30 years.

And our troops will succeed because they are doing the right thing. Keep them in your thoughts and keep them in your prayers on this beautiful Monday morning here on the quad, and let them know this morning how proud you are of them, each and every one. God bless them, and keep them safe.

We are doing the right thing in Iraq, let there be no doubt. It is dangerous work. We mourn every loss. We are making progress. Next month, we will return sovereignty to an Iraqi interim government. That interim government will have its work cut out for it as it prepares Iraq for elections through a national assembly at the end of the year, followed by a new constitution and then elections for new leaders within another year.

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