Spring has sprung and summer is near. The change in weather signals many things to many people and I am finding that with each year that passes this is the season of retirement ceremonies. Last Friday, two of my valued Shipmates retired from the world’s greatest Navy, one in Pensacola and one here in Maryland. I had the privilege of serving as a “Sideboy” for my buddy in Maryland. It had been the first retirement I had attended in eight months. Having reached twenty years of service myself, many of the people with whom I have served since the early days are beginning to move on and, technically, I am eligible to retire from the Navy. I’d be lying if I didn’t freely admit that lately, I have been entertaining the idea of doing just that. Seeing people I truly respect and admire decide to start a new chapter in their lives is no help in convincing me to stay in. So, I thought this year’s retirement ceremony season would be slightly different for me. This year, as I pay my respects to each Shipmate at their ceremony, I would also be planning my own.

Not everyone chooses to have a ceremony and I find that to be unfortunate and somewhat selfish. To me, a ceremony in whatever form chosen by the retiree is all about gratitude. An opportunity created for Shipmates to gather and thank the guest of honor for their service, contribution, and sacrifice. An opportunity for the retiree to thank Family and Shipmates alike for everything they have done to enable the journey of a lifetime. Because I see it in such a way, I have known for years that I will someday enjoy my own Gratitude Ceremony when the time was right. The challenge for all is deciding when that time has arrived.

I spent the morning of 29 March 2013 dressed in my choker whites, participating in a mini-reunion of sorts, embracing Shipmates from years past, and celebrating a specific Shipmate’s 28 years of naval service. It was a beautiful ceremony, filled with just about every emotion possible, and above all gratitude. As I drove away from the ceremony and reflected on what I had just witnessed, I felt inspired. By reconnecting with old friends, I was reminded of the many great times I have had as a Sailor. As I met the young Sailors just beginning their journey who made up the choir and color guard, I was excited about the things they were yet to experience. As I reflected on the words shared by the guest speaker and guest of honor, I smiled as my eye leaked, all the while wondering what I might say during my gratitude talk. It was that drive back to the office when I realized that the date for my Gratitude Ceremony was much further off than I had imagined earlier in the morning.

In keeping with Stephen Covey’s advice of always beginning with the end in mind, I know the end of my naval adventure is not yet over. I am not yet the person I envision being when that day arrives; there are so many ways in which I plan to grow before I earn that right to address my Shipmates. Before I express my last “Thank you” while in uniform, I aspire to being able to utter the words “You’re welcome” to many more Shipmates. And the culture of the team to which I belong looks very little like I hope it will when my family, friends, and Shipmates congregate in a singular forum. In essence, there are too many things I want to have reason to say during my retirement speech that I can’t yet. Things that WE have yet to accomplish, people WE have yet to inspire, and ways in which I have yet to grow.

That day will come and I am hopeful that it will come on my terms. When I have done all I can, when my family has experienced all we want, and when my Shipmates have outgrown me, that is the day to schedule my Gratitude Ceremony.  I hope I give you reason enough to want to be there.

  • What do you hope to be able to say on the day you leave your current organization?
  • What do you hope others will say about you as you depart?
  • How close are you to that day?