Mullen Urges Graduates to Consider Ways to Serve
By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service
TALLAHASSEE, Fla.,, May. 1, 2010 The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff evoked civil rights leader Martin Luther King’s contention that “everybody can be great, because anyone can serve” in commencement remarks to the Class of 2010 at Florida A&M University here today.
“Service in uniform is not exactly what I am driving at,” Navy Adm. Mike Mullen told graduates, faculty and staff, families and friends gathered in the Alfred L. Lawson Gymnasium. “Although if the Marching 100 seniors feel like taking all that energy and precision to another level,” he joked, “I have some recruiting applications available in the back.”
The Marching 100, Florida A&M’s marching band, has performed at five Super Bowls and has been credited with creating more than 30 techniques that have become standard for high school and college marching bands around the country.
Mullen told the graduates that military life has been good for him.
“I was raised a Hollywood, Calif., kid,” he said, “but I really grew up at sea. Ships have been my home, and many sailors have been as close to me as family. I would not have dedicated my life to it otherwise.”
But, he said, that service doesn’t necessarily require wearing a military uniform.
“I also believe there are many ways to serve something bigger than yourself – many ways to make a difference,” Mullen said. “Whether it’s serving others through teaching, through volunteer work, in the Peace Corps, or in other parts of our government at the federal or local level, the need for service is huge, and yours is a generation that has signaled you want to serve.
“And that need is going to continue to grow,” he continued. “Overseas and at home, the world needs young, bright people to serve the common cause of humanity.”
King’s message is great, the admiral said, because it means anybody can serve, and service will make everybody great.
Service and citizenship have changed since he graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1968, the year King was assassinated, Mullen said, but the face of America also has changed.
“The faces of those who influence have become more diverse – more representative of the breadth and the depth of our country,” he said, “and I believe that change represents the best of what’s possible in any democracy.
“It’s our differences [and] our ability to adapt that make America great,” he continued. “Diversity of thought, gender, ethnicity, faith or language truly bring us to ‘E Pluribus Unum’ – ‘Out of Many, One.’”
Mullen recalled going to a diversity conference in New Orleans in 2005, when he was serving as chief of naval operations.
“I walked in with my immediate staff, which was all white males,” he said. “A young officer from the Coast Guard sent me a note after that that said, ‘You have to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.’ He wasn’t happy with what my staff looked like.
“About 18 months later in my home,” he continued, “I was having a farewell party for my immediate staff of about 15 to 20 officers, and I stood back and looked at that immediate staff, and I think I was the only white male in the group.”
What struck him, the admiral said, is the missed opportunities of the past and how long it took him to figure it out.
“In fact, all I did was create opportunities for them, and they excelled,” he said. “They made me better, they made our Navy better, and I stood there looking at what I could have done had I figured this out earlier. And I would urge you to think that way, because you are young – to reach out and make sure you grasp and take advantage of the diversity that we have as a country. It will become more and more critical in the future.”
Since the 1960s, Mullen said, the world also has become more open and collaborative.
“And I give you ‘20-somethings’ a lot of credit,” the chairman said. “You are eager to be on the edge of our technologically advanced, global marketplace. You aren’t afraid to try new things [and] you’re not afraid to make mistakes, whereas my generation is just trying to hang on and figure it out.”
Mullen told the Class of 2010’s engineering science and technology graduates that their research on sensors and imaging systems will save lives and limbs by helping the military detect and defeat the most lethal threats it faces: roadside bombs and nuclear, chemical and biological attacks.
Business graduates can contribute to national security, the admiral said, because America’s security depends largely on its economy.
“Now, more than ever, in our complex global marketplace, economic engines drive a nation’s stability,” he said. “Where economies fail, violence usually flourishes. Entrepreneurship can help create growth. Growth creates jobs. Jobs yield productivity. Productivity leads to prosperity.”
In turn, he added, prosperous people have hopes and dreams for their children and grandchildren, and “tend to resist the brand of extremism that plagues so many parts of the world.”
Mullen praised agriculture, education and health sciences graduates for their commitment to “the most fundamental aspects of global security.”
“In all my travels in countries around the world, and particularly in Afghanistan right now,” he said, “these things – schools and farms and hospitals – are literally the cornerstones around which a secure foundation is built. We can have all the security in the world, but if we cannot educate our youth, feed them and care for them, and help them pursue productive lives, we cannot hope to advance beyond mere survival.”
The admiral gave the graduating class some advice that he said will help them turn challenges into opportunities in whatever careers they pursue.
“Speak truth to power,” he said. “Listen to your juniors. See problems through other people’s eyes, and never be afraid to admit your mistakes.”
Noting that success in a life of service is a product of guidance, grace and love from leaders and mentors, the chairman cited Dorothy Height, hailed by President Barack Obama as the godmother of the civil rights movement and a hero to all Americans in marking her death last week.
“[Height] reminded us that ‘Without community service, we would not have a strong quality of life. It’s important to the person who serves, as well as to the recipient. It’s the way in which we ourselves grow and develop,’” Mullen said.
He reminded the graduating class that they stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before them.
“Those who preceded us gave their best so we could have the opportunity to be our best,” he said. “Times are changing, and your nation needs nothing less than your best.”
Before the commencement ceremony, the chairman met with Florida A&M’s Army ROTC cadets and Navy ROTC midshipmen, and with James Ammons, president of the university.
At the ceremony Mullen administered the oath of office to 12 ROTC graduates who will serve in the Army, Navy and Marine Corps.
He noted that Florida A&M’s ROTC programs have turned out more than 1,500 military officers, including Army 1st Lt. Randolph Powell from the Class of 2008, who is finishing a year-long tour in Iraq, where he has helped to build structures and security stations that will help the Iraqi army provide for their own country’s defense.
Ammons conferred an honorary doctorate of humane letters on Mullen.