NEWPORT, R.I. – The U.S. Naval War College (NWC) officially kicked off the 2014-2015 academic year Monday, welcoming an incoming class of 578 students during a convocation ceremony held at the college.<br /> <br /> The ceremony marked the beginning of the college’s 130th year of educating and developing leaders in Newport. <br /> <br /> “This ceremony serves as public recognition that our ‘shared intellectual journey’ is about to begin,” said Rear Adm. P. Gardner Howe III, president, NWC. “Each of us arrived at this point by following very different paths, and the cut and color of the various uniforms and business suits in the audience provides evidence of the many military services, agencies and nations that comprise our unique college.”<br /> <br /> The incoming class is made up of members of the U.S. Navy, Army, Marine Corps, Air Force and Coast Guard, as well as international students representing 63 countries and civilians from 15 federal agencies. <br /> <br /> “I can state with certainty that the year of study that you begin today will be a watershed event in your professional career and in your personal life,” said Howe. “Within these halls you will find learning partners to share your intellectual journey. <br /> <br /> “Some of these partners are professional educators from world-class faculty, while others are your seminar mates and fellow students. I encourage you to learn from them all.”<br /> <br /> The NWC is the oldest institution of its kind and is internationally renowned for its rigorous 10-month course of postgraduate students in the art of war.<br /> <br /> “Whether you are a student, spouse or family member, I encourage to you embrace the opportunity to get all that you can from your year at this historic Naval War College, in this wonderful city, and in this beautiful region of the United States. I am sure you will join the legions who have preceded you who look back on their time here in Newport.<br /> <br /> “Now, steel your hearts and minds, and dedicate yourself to the task at hand.”<br /> <br /> Honored at the ceremony was this year’s recipient of the NWC’s Distinguished Graduate Leadership Award, U.S. Army Gen. David M. Rodriguez, commander, U.S. Africa Command. The award – established in 1995 and first presented in 1996 – recognizes the accomplishments of alumni who used their NWC education as a springboard to positions of senior leadership and national prominence. <br /> <br /> Rodriguez is the 19th recipient of the award.<br /> <br /> “Since the first class of nine students convened here in 1885, this institution has educated leaders to think broadly about military leadership, strategy and operations,” said Rodriguez. “The lessons that I learned at the NWC continue to influence the way that I think and lead.”<br /> <br /> The NWC was founded in 1884 as an advanced center for professional military study. Each year it educates nearly 600 students in residence and more than 5,000 through distance education programs. <br /> <br /> The college is accredited by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for Joint Professional Military Education Phase I and II, and by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges to award a Master of Art in national security and strategic studies.