CAFB leader inspires HS seniors to work toward something bigger than themselves

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Keith Holcomb
  • 14th Flying Training Wing Public Affairs
Col. William Denham, 14th Flying Training Wing vice commander, spoke at East Mississippi Community College (EMCC) in Mayhew, Mississippi, during the Lowndes County Senior Breakfast May 1.

The breakfast was an opportunity to connect with seniors across numerous high schools near EMCC, helping open their mind to the importance of voting, making the right choices and working toward their goals in the near future.

After the first speakers engaged with the students on their main points, covering various topics listed above, Denham took the stage.

“This summer I will be retiring after 24 years of service,” Denham said. “I — like you — will have to ask myself what you’re asking yourself right now; ‘What am I going to do when I grow up?’”

The crowd laughed and listened intently as Denham began to express his understanding of the unknown ahead for the students.

“I want you to be confident no matter what your dream is,” he said. “There is a place for you in this world to make the difference you want to make.”

Denham told them their goals will take hard work and they must hurdle great obstacles. He explained his odd path to the U.S. Air Force Academy and how he received a pilot training slot.

He told the students why he chose the harder path, why he didn’t want to look away from his dream of being an Air Force pilot.

“You’re character will be the defining memory of your life, not your occupation,” Denham said.

Denham reminisced about a couple individuals that exemplified good character and left a lasting impression on him.

Growing up and attending a poor boarding school, Denham said the school didn’t have money to pay for routine maintenance. So, his principal would often be the one who would arrive before class and shovel the snow and take care of school grounds. Denham said this taught him to be willing to do things that others may not want to do.

Denham also spoke about retired Col. Carlyle “Smitty” Harris, former Vietnam War prisoner of war. Denham said what he really admired about Harris is that during his nearly eight years in a POW camp, he never revealed anything after being tortured because he didn’t want to let his leadership and teammates down; he knew they were staying strong and that’s what kept him going as well.

Denham said Harris’ story has inspired him to live by strong will and character, and not through his occupation.

“Part of character is living a life bigger than yourself,” Denham said. “Working toward something bigger than yourself is a part of your humanity and even your sanity. Ask yourself what kind of man or woman you want to be.”

He ended his speech by thanking the students for being a part of the event and wished them luck on their journey forward.