LAWRENCEVILLE - David Petraeus doesn't speak at many commencement ceremonies. The U.S. Army general has been deployed for the bulk of the past seven-and-a-half years.
But when his longtime friend and former colleague Daniel Kaufman asked, the commander of the U.S. Central Command agreed to be the keynote speaker at Georgia Gwinnett College's spring commencement ceremony. Kaufman, a retired brigadier general who taught with Petraeus at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, is the president of the newest University System of Georgia institution.
"Frankly, it's a great thrill to (speak at Georgia Gwinnett College) for two big reasons," Petraeus said after Friday's commencement ceremony. "One is I'm an enormous admirer of Gen. Kaufman - President Dan Kaufman - and the second reason is I'm very impressed by what it is he and the faculty and all the other staff and supporters and the Board of Regents are doing here at GGC."
Since the college opened in 2006 on the site of the former Gwinnett University Center in Lawrenceville, Georgia Gwinnett College has added an auditorium, a student services center, a fitness center and a parking deck and broken ground on a library and student housing. The student population has grown from 118 to nearly 1,700, and the college was granted candidacy toward accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
"It's most impressive to see what's been done in such a short period of time," Petraeus said of the campus. "To hear it described doesn't do it justice. Again, you have to be on the ground. You have to see what's happened. You have to see where farmland has been turned into brick and mortar. And you have to see the realization of a vision that was certainly perhaps 20 years in the making but has been about three years or so in actual fact in construction, curriculum development, hiring and all the rest of that."
During the graduation ceremony, Petraeus described Kaufman as "a true friend and mentor."
"We've had a lot of wonderful experiences over the years - at West Point and a host of other places, including in Iraq," Petraeus said. "And we've maintained a very close friendship over the years."
Kaufman's remarks about Petraeus, with whom he coauthored a book published in 1989, "NATO at Forty: Change, Continuity & Prospects," showed the respect and admiration is mutual.
"There are those folks about whom you have a hunch, even early on, people that you think, 'Wow, this guy's got it,'" Kaufman said. "Our special guest and speaker today is one of those people.
"I had the privilege of serving with Dave on the faculty at West Point and of seeing him in command in the most sensitive and demanding positions any officer could hold," Kaufman said later in the ceremony. "While we were on the faculty at West Point, Dave developed a course in international security studies in which he looked at regional security dynamics from the perspective of the non-superpowers, an analytical view that was unique back in the good old days of the Cold War. ...
"Clearly his prescience back then as a teacher and scholar has contributed significantly to his ability to comprehend the interactions of the myriad actors engaged in the region for which he is now responsible."
Kaufman also talked about how they would work out together in the gym at West Point.
"As I recall, Dave would carry on a normal conversation as we ran around the indoor track while I was gasping for air, trying not to pass out," Kaufman said. "He and I also engaged in a pull-up contest every day. Just let me suggest that you never want to get involved in a pull-up contest with this guy, because no matter how many you do, he will do more."