Honorees Exemplify Military, Civilian and Volunteer Service, Distinction in their Fields, and Steadfast Support of the Naval Academy and Alumni Community
ANNAPOLIS, MD—The United States Naval Academy Alumni Association and Foundation will honor five extraordinary Naval Academy alumni at the 25th Annual Distinguished Graduate Award ceremony in Alumni Hall at the United States Naval Academy on 24 March 2023. Each recipient has demonstrated a lifetime commitment to service, exemplary personal character, and distinguished contributions to the nation and to their fields of endeavor. Each has also dedicated themselves to the support of the Naval Academy and alumni community. Past awardees include the late Vice Admiral James B. Stockdale ’47, USN (Ret.); the late Senator John S. McCain III ’58; the late Colonel John W. Ripley ’62, USMC (Ret.); Roger T. Staubach ’65; Janie L. Mines ’80; and David M. Robinson ’87.
Here are the 2023 honorees:
Major General Leo V. Williams III ’70, USMCR (Ret.) began paving the way for others even during his first-class year as a midshipman, helping create a Black studies program. Williams was the first Black Marine officer to serve in the Officer Assignments Branch, a major steppingstone to General Officer selection. Serving 33 years in the Marine Corps, including 25 in the Marine Corps Reserve, he served in Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm and the Global War on Terror. During his 25-year career with Ford Motor Company, he was the first Black person holding each new leadership role he secured. The Ford Expedition owes its name to Leo, as brand manager, as a Ford salute to the expeditionary “Go Anywhere, Do Anything” spirit of the United States Marine Corps. Williams also convinced Ford to make a $300,000 donation to the Naval Academy Foundation based on the success of Academy alumni in leadership and management roles at Ford. Williams became the first Black vice-chairman of the Naval Academy Alumni Association Board of Trustees, the first Black director for the Naval Academy Foundation Board of Directors and was instrumental in creating Shared Interest Groups (SIGs) governed by the Alumni Association. Williams served on the board and then as vice chairman for the Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots program for 10 years. Major General Leo V. Williams III resides in Charleston, SC.
Ronald L. Nicol ’75 has championed the Naval Academy as an ambassador in the corporate world by hiring and mentoring Naval Academy alumni for over 40 years as an industry executive and as a Senior Partner at The Boston Consulting Group (BCG). He recently led a BCG pro bono effort supporting the Superintendent’s 2030 USNA Strategy project. He earned his MBA from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and later became chairman of its Board of Visitors where he invested in expanding opportunities for military veterans, including establishing a scholarship endowment in perpetuity. Nicol donated advanced measuring instruments to equip the Academy’s Center for Cyber Security Studies in Hopper Hall. Following commissioning, Nicol was selectively detailed to the Naval Research Laboratory for research in particle beam weapons. After completing Nuclear Power School, he served on VALLEJO before returning to teach at the Nuclear Power School and then served 13 additional years in the Navy Reserve. In 2016, he directed the U.S. Presidential Transition Agency Action Team where he assembled a team of 300 volunteers to support an efficient transfer of government. Nicol is a trustee for the Naval Academy Foundation Athletic and Scholarship Programs and a member of the Naval Academy Foundation’s Board of Directors. He is currently the executive chairman of Nuburu, a high-power blue laser company. Ronald L. Nicol resides in Frisco, TX.
Admiral James G. Stavridis ’76, USN (Ret.) was a surface warrior for his 37-year Navy career and is the only Naval officer to serve as Supreme Allied Commander NATO, Commander U.S. European Command, and Commander U.S. Southern Command. He was promoted directly from 1-star to 3-star vice admiral as the Senior Military Assistant to the Secretary of Defense. He began his Navy career as an Anti-Submarine Warfare Officer and served as executive officer of cruiser ANTIETAM which was deployed for Desert Shield/Desert Storm. While commanding destroyer BARRY, Stavridis became one of the first destroyer commanding officers to embark women as crew members. He also commanded Destroyer Squadron 21 and Enterprise Carrier Strike Group, both in combat. Stavridis has published 12 books – including six national bestsellers – and produced fundamental textbooks for the surface Navy including Division Officer’s Guide, Watch Officer’s Guide, and Command at Sea. Stavridis served five years as dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, where he earned a Ph.D. in 1984. He is currently vice chairman of the international private equity firm, The Carlyle Group; chairman of the board for the Rockefeller Foundation; and Chief International Analyst for NBC News. Admiral James G. Stavridis resides in Ponte Vedra Beach, FL.
Rear Admiral Julius S. Caesar ’77, USNR (Ret.) achieved Flag rank as a Navy Reserve officer while making his mark in the private sector, helping support a culture of inclusion within the alumni community. Caesar was a minority officer recruiter before serving as a Surface Warfare Officer aboard DALE. Caesar’s first Flag assignment was Reserve Deputy, Commander Navy Installations Command, Washington Navy Yard. He served as Vice Director, Joint Concept Development and Experimentation, J9, U.S. Joint Forces Command and his final assignment was Deputy Director, J7, Joint and Coalition Warfighting, Joint Staff, Suffolk, VA. Simultaneously, Caesar built a successful private sector career, now serving as an executive with NetApp, Inc., a Fortune 500 firm. Caesar is president of the Naval Academy Minority Association (NAMA) Shared Interest Group where he began STEM and admissions programs for school-aged students in underserved areas and organized the first Naval Academy Alumni Leadership Forum featuring the Secretary of the Navy and Chief of Naval Operations. Caesar mentors Naval Academy Preparatory School students, writes recommendation letters for Academy applicants and organized virtual town halls in 2020 as forums where alumni and midshipmen could discuss social unrest issues. Rear Admiral Julius S. Caesar resides in Fairfax, VA.
Admiral Cecil D. Haney ’78, USN (Ret.) blazed a historic path during his 38-year Naval career. He was the first Black four-star submariner, the first Black Pacific Fleet (PACFLT) commander, the first Black Strategic Command (STRATCOM) commander and only the second Black four-star admiral in the history of the U.S. Navy. As PACFLT commander, he led the largest fleet in the Navy and is an original member of the Centennial Seven – the first seven Black submarine commanding officers in the 20th century. His efforts with the Centennial Seven team resulted in nearly tripling the number of Black submarine commanding officers in the 21st century. He serves in leadership roles for multiple organizations including the Aerospace Corporation, General Dynamics, Tenet Healthcare, and Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. He is chairman of the Board of Directors for the Military Child Education Coalition. Haney has served as a Blue and Gold Officer assisting applicants from predominantly underserved communities and currently serves as Naval Academy Foundation Board of Directors vice chairman. He is also on the Service Academy Selection Board for District of Columbia Rep. Eleanor Norton. Admiral Cecil D. Haney resides in Adelphi, MD.
The 2023 DGA Selection Panel was chaired by Admiral Harry B. Harris ’78, USN (Ret.). Other members of the panel were Rear Admiral Anatolio B. “A.B.” Cruz III ’80, USN (Ret.); Mike M. Petters ’82; Vice Admiral Sean S. Buck ’83, USN; Vice Admiral Jan E. Tighe ’84, USN (Ret.); Lieutenant General Loretta E. Reynolds ’86, USMC (Ret.); Matice J. Wright-Springer ’88; Jeff R. Webb ’95; and Ian M. Cameron ’12. Admiral Mark E. Ferguson III ’78, USN (Ret.), served as a non-voting member as chair of the Alumni Association Board of Trustees.
The 24 March 2023 medal ceremony will be attended by the Brigade of Midshipmen; Naval Academy Superintendent Vice Admiral Sean S. Buck ’83, USN; Admiral Mark E. Ferguson III ’78, USN (Ret.), chair of the Naval Academy Alumni Association Board of Trustees; former Naval Academy Distinguished Graduates; and other dignitaries. For more information on the nomination and selection process for the Distinguished Graduate Award, and a list of past honorees, please visit the Distinguished Graduate Award webpage.