Browne on being accountable and building personal relationships
June 2, 2016
Maj. Bill Browne

Editor’s Note: The following Retiring Teacher Speech was given by Maj. Bill Browne, the band, orchestra and instrumental music coordinator. Browne gave his speech during an academic convocation early last semester. Browne and his wife Linda, who is also retired after spending several years with the Huffington Library, were given a special farewell serenade by the Band on May 22.

Years ago, we used to start rounds as the OC (officers-in-charge) at 4 p.m. and leave at seven the next morning. Both the BI’s (barrack inspectors) and security left at 11 p.m., so our task was to stay up all night and patrol the grounds and barracks with a flashlight and a radio. The next day, classes started at about eight, so you can imagine how effective we must have been as teachers that day.

One spring morning, at first light, I rounded North & East Barrack just in time to see none other than Godzilla waddling across the field with its head bobbing up and down heading toward the 1st Class Ring. I thought “Oh no, you’ve been up way too long,” and rubbed my eyes, and sure enough, there was an eight-foot tall, green and gray Godzilla on a direct path to the lake, flailing its little arms and making pretty good time.

NOW what. So I headed to the lake to see what was happening. The morning grew lighter, and I got closer, and I saw that Godzilla had jumped in the lake and was trying in vain to get out. Its head was thrashing around, and its little arms were grabbing at the air, and occasionally it would crane its head menacingly. When I got to the retaining wall, sure enough, there it was, heaving pathetically, flapping around and occasionally falling over, and at the base of its inflatable tail was a cadet, in the lake, up to his chest. The conversation went something like this:

“Oh. (Oops) Hi sir.”

“Uh… Greg, what are you doing? It’s five in the morning.”

“I know, sir; I know I’m not supposed to be out of barracks, but, you see, my friend here has a leak, and the only way I can find out where it is, is to put him in the water and find that hole.”

“Hmmm. How’s that coming?”

“I think I found it. It’s here in the tail.”

“OK; well, when you’re done, just be careful going up the stairs with those wet feet.”

I didn’t bother to turn him in for being out-of-barrack. And I still don’t know how an eight-foot Godzilla even fit into his room, or how he passed inspection, but this one day was just between Greg and me; and after all, it made it a much more fascinating morning.

So… should I have turned him in? By the book, probably – it’s a Type II offense. But I knew Greg fairly well, and I took that risk; and I also know that personal relationships are the core of our lives, and in that early spring morning it seemed that if an eight-foot Godzilla could help Greg through the day, then that was just fine with me.

Even if it includes Godzilla, if at the end of the day you can live to be accountable for your every word and deed, your legacy will stand the test of time.

You are at a very demanding school, and I would guess that all of you are all pretty good at what you do. Being skilled at something is important. We spend many valuable hours perfecting our craft, whatever it is. We have to learn well all the details and procedures and know them thoroughly. As a professional musician, my art is often my identity – it is what people hear and see of me most, and I can tell you I have put in countless hours over the years trying to perfect even the minutest nuances in a musical phrase.

Maj. Bill Browne and his wife, Linda, listen as the Band serenades them.

Maj. Bill and Linda Browne listen as the Band serenades them.

I want my surgeon or my oncologist to be the best at what she does because, of course, my life depends on it. I want my pilot to be well-skilled in flying. I know of at least two people who discovered a little too late that their pilot needed some more practice landing in cross-winds.

Yes – you must be good at what you do. And yes, what I do is tightly woven in to who I am. But in the end, how you make a living, and how you get by in the world is simply what you do, and not all of who you are. There is more to life than being good at what you do.

I believe that at the end of the day, you are accountable for every word and deed. And believe me, I have to atone for enough each and every day. But with that conviction you can learn to do the following:

Play well with others.

  • Are you the whiner or the braggart on your team? Or are you the one who helps pull it all together?

Function well even in extraordinary or trying circumstances.

  • You never know what might go wrong and when, and it can be a life-saving moment when you learn to be the one to right the situation when everything goes south.

Take care of yourself even in a stressful environment

  • No. 1 – If you are sick, you can’t help anyone. You know how to stay healthy, so do it.
  • And, No. 2 – If you’re in a dangerous or ominous situation, the last thing you need is another victim. Life is not a movie. Heroes are “situation aware” and they don’t do stupid things.

You already gravitate to certain people in your life who have these skills and you pay attention to what they do, because they to have it all together; they are more at ease with themselves. Maybe they’re even younger than you, but they seem older and they are somehow able to make things work in life. These people make everyone’s burden lighter, and the uplifting effect they project comes from their attitude and how they take care of others, and this is the kind of person you want to emulate.

Here’s the problem. For the rest of your life you must figure out how to deal with the following, or you’ll be overwhelmed by it:

  • An overabundance of confusing information,
  • Commitments that conflict with other commitments,
  • A complex world with so many components, they all seem to contradict each other,
  • And it only becomes more complex the farther you go.

Mark this well: The core of life is personal relationships.

BUT… this runs counter to almost everything you’ve been sold in the marketplace and by the media in our culture. Get more. Spend more. Earn more. More…more…more. He who dies with the most toys wins. Have you heard Ashton Kutcher’s comments about hard work in his Teen Choice Award speech two years ago? No? Look it up. I think he would agree that the things that count run counter to that message of “more.”

So…even though you didn’t ask, here’s my success list for you to consider:

  • Love your family unconditionally
  • Organize yourself
  • Learn how to work. (Really work, not fake it.)
  • Keep your priorities above reproach; stay true to your values.
  • Treat others as you would be treated.
  • Take care of yourself so you can take care of others. And, above all
  • Recognize and celebrate the beauty and wonder in all that you do.

Even if it includes Godzilla, if at the end of the day you can live to be accountable for your every word and deed, your legacy will stand the test of time.

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