Bridge Over Troubled Water
Full text of address at The Navy League of the United States
My first impression of St. Louis was formed in the mid-1980s when I watched the movie
Vacation starring Chevy Chase. That impression stayed with me for a very long time.
In fact it was a very scary impression. Clark Griswold and his family pulled off the
highway in an area I thought was East of St. Louis. I remembered vividly what happened
to them. Perhaps you do too. But when I arrived in St. Louis, in the summer of 2000,
I discovered a different place, a remarkable city on the shores of the mighty Mississippi
River, home to 91 municipalities. A place described by demographers as the northern
most southern city, the southernmost northern city, the eastern most northern city,
the eastern most western city, and the western most eastern city. It is a city that
could be described for inclusive excellence because its ethnicity, geography, and
attitudes all place it uniquely in the middle of America.
This is the city that in 1904 did the impossible by hosting the World's Fair and the
Olympics simultaneously. The Show Me State showed the world that St. Louisians are
creatively innovative, resilient and purposeful. Historically and culturally, St.
Louis is known for many things, including the world champion Cardinals and culinary
delicacies like Ted Drewes' concretes, toasted ravioli and provel cheese. St. Louis
is also renowned for a bridge, the Eads Bridge, which at one time was the largest
suspension bridge in the country. Like the Brooklyn Bridge, its construction relied
on sinking great caissons to unprecedented depths into the river below it.
The construction and design of the Eads Bridge set precedent in many other ways as
well. It was the world's first alloy steel bridge; the first to use tubular cords;
and the first to depend entirely upon the use of the cantilever in the building of
the structure. It was the first large bridge to span the Mississippi River, and the
first to carry railroad tracks. This visionary spirit that brought the Eads Bridge
into fruition embodied what was demonstrated dramatically nearly 90 years later with
the iconic design and improbable construction of the Gateway Arch. To this day the
Arch remains the tallest man-made monument in the U.S.
On the east side of St. Louis run the Mississippi River. Back in the day the river
was considered an obstacle to progress yet rather than limiting St. Louis, it inspired
the city to think big and act boldly. It inspired city leaders to build a bridge that
crosses both physical and mental divides. It became, in essence, a powerful motivating
force made of metal.
I want to take a few minutes this evening to speak on what I consider to be the most
important work of all and that is building bridges. The bridge for which I speak is
not limited to the physical construct by definition, but one that serves as a connection
between our past and the promising future. Bridges enable us to go from where we are
now to where we want to be. It connects us from a state of hopelessness to hope.
Webster University has chosen to be a bridge builder by being bold, by measuring our
success not by those we exclude, but by those we include. We've done this by providing
access to an affordable high-quality education to all who seek the empowering strength
of knowledge anywhere in the world. This is a mission that will never have an expiration
One place dear to my heart that is yearning for its own bridge over troubled waters
is Africa, with its one billion and counting population, its vast natural resources
and its untapped human potential. There is a real opportunity to build a bridge in
Africa that will enable this continent to become a model of equitable development,
an aide to world stability. But Africa is in the midst of turbulence created by piracy
off the coast of Somalia all the way down to the west coast of Nigeria. Not for long.
The U.S Navy African Partnership Station is serving as a much-needed bridge by providing
maritime security. This is the kind of security that enables stability, which fosters
peace through tranquility and will ultimately engender prosperity.
In the turbulent times of our present where the certainty of uncertainty permeates
our world, it is assuring that the United States Navy-African partnerships as well
as other collaborative global efforts is the 21st century equivalent of a bridge --
a stabilizing and reliable force that is connecting Africa to the rest of the world.
This bridge will help withstand the strong current of instability on the African continent.
It is not just a conventional bridge made of steel, or bricks or mortar. It is a bridge
built of the strongest substance of all: humanity. Building a bridge is taking responsibility
Building a bridge over troubled waters is what the U.S. Navy has done for many, many
years the world over. I want to leave you with a story perhaps an urban legend which
I was told was the basis for Simon and Garfunkel's classic song Bridge Over Troubled
Waters. The song tells a story of a drawbridge operator who lived near the bridge
of which he was in charge. It was his responsibility to let boats pass beneath by
raising the bridge and trains pass on top by lowering the bridge. One day he received
the familiar signal that a train was approaching. Seeing the silver flash in the distance
he reached over to pull the switch that would lower the bridge.
And then he looked down in horror to see his son who had been playing under the bridge
now caught in the rigging. With no time to leave and release his son and then get
back to lower the bridge, he is trapped into making a choice that none of us would
ever hope to make: either lower the bridge and save the lives of hundreds of passengers
on the train and crush his own child, or save the life of his child and allow the
train to crash. What would you have done?
Our choices are difficult but clear. How can we choose to remain safely on our own
shores knowing that we could change the lives of those on the other side by simply
Simon and Garfunkel's classic song, Bridge Over Troubled Waters reaffirms my belief
in the intrinsic value of bridges, and confirms my sense of conviction in helping
others. I recall the lyrics vividly. "Sail on silver girl sail on. Your time has come
to shine. All your dreams are on their way. And if you need a friend, I'm sailing
right behind you. Like a bridge over troubled waters I will ease your mind.