Celebrating A Meaningful Journey
By Traci L. Walker, M.A
Today, we gather here to celebrate the culmination of an incredible journey for the 199 graduates of FBI National Academy (NA) Session 287.
Ten weeks ago, 199 of us from diverse backgrounds, agencies, and corners of the globe answered our call of duty. Whether we traveled just a few or nearly 10,000 miles, we arrived here with a shared objective: learning and growing as leaders.
The journey we embarked upon at the start of this program took work. It forced us to excel academically and physically but also entailed a commitment to the values that define us as law enforcement officers — knowledge, courage, and integrity.
We started as perfect strangers from our respective agencies. We are now family, forever bonded by weeks of intensive and extensive physical and mental challenges, tough learned lessons, and sacrifices. Some persevered through physical setbacks. Yet, every Wednesday, we united, rising to our physical challenges — a testament to the strong spirit of Session 287. The age-old saying “There’s strength in numbers” is the most accurate description of the family of 199. Through camaraderie, we came together in our most challenging times. We supported one another, strengthening our dedication to each other and, more significantly, our profession.
We will keep the memories of walking through the bustling streets of the Big Apple, standing in Times Square, visiting the Liberty Bell, and running up the stairs of the Philadelphia Museum of Art in our collective consciousness. The melting pot of food, language, culture, and drinks we experienced at International Night was unmatched. An emotional moment for many of us was the ceremony honoring fallen law enforcement officers.
Deputy Chief Walker of the Chicago Police Department delivered this speech at the FBI National Academy Session 287 graduation on September 14, 2023, in Quantico, Virginia.
Among all the memories we have made over 10 weeks, one stands out with unquestionable significance: running the Yellow Brick Road on September 11. The weight of that day, steeped in history and sorrow, added gravity to each step. As we ran, we did not just remember the tragic events of that fateful day but also symbolically bore the responsibility of upholding the values, honor, and sacrifice of those who came before us. It was a stark reminder that our duty goes beyond uniforms and titles; it is a commitment to preserving and defending the ideals that define our nation.
Today, we celebrate the end of this chapter but begin a new chapter as elite law enforcement professionals — graduates of the FBI National Academy Session 287. Our thankfulness is immeasurable. Thank you, Director Wray and the entire staff and personnel of the NA.
To our families, we recognize the countless sacrifices you have made: the missed events, birthdays, and anniversaries; the late-night phone calls; and your unwavering belief in our mission. While worn by us, this achievement belongs to you as much as it does to us.
To our classmates who remained steadfast when their fathers transitioned, thank you for showing us perseverance through pain. Their spiritual presence is here today. Thank you to our 21 international colleagues, whose invaluable perspectives remind us that the desire to lead and serve knows no borders. Despite our diverse origins, we learned from various areas of the globe that we all experience similar challenges in law enforcement.
The magnitude of perseverance we have demonstrated in 10 weeks is proof of the magnetic pull of this training and the core of our class. Let us carry forth the torch of leadership, service, and unity. Remember that our paths might diverge, but our purpose remains steadfast: to be pioneers; challenge the norms; and always serve with integrity, honor, and compassion. As servant-leader John Maxwell said, “Leadership is not about titles, positions, or flowcharts. It is about one life influencing another.”1 We are all leaders in our own right, and our influence through the changes we can make is unlimited.
Here is to our shared purpose, our shared journey, and our shared future. These last 10 weeks have been worth their weight in gold. I am profoundly honored and immensely grateful to have been allowed to address you all today. It is a privilege that I hold dear and a moment I will cherish forever. As we say goodbye and return to our respective agencies, let us not forget the importance of the “knowledge, courage, and integrity” we proudly wore on our chests, which holds a special significance at the NA. Let us continue to support and inspire each other and remain committed to impacting our communities.
To Session 287, we made it! Thank you for your support, your friendship, and your dedication. Moreover, while this chapter ends, I am excited to see all the great things we will achieve in the next one. Congratulations to us all!
“Remember that our paths might diverge, but our purpose remains steadfast: to be pioneers; challenge the norms; and always serve with integrity, honor, and compassion.”
Deputy Chief Walker can be reached at email@example.com.
1 John C. Maxwell and Jim Dornan, Becoming a Person of Influence — How to Positively Impact the Lives of Others (Nashville, TN: Nelson Business, 2006).