ADM. MICHAEL MULLEN: Thank you, President Ammons. Distinguished members of the faculty, parents, family, friends and of course, the mighty Rattler class of 2010. (Cheers, applause.) It is a great privilege and pleasure to share this day with you. And to Dr. Ammons, first of all, thank you for your leadership and dedication to ensuring Florida A&M remain in its rightful place among the nation’s institutions of higher learning. To the faculty and alumni, thank you for your patience in and commitment to guiding these young minds.
To the moms and dads, brothers and sisters and all the families here today, please stand up and be recognized. (Cheers, applause.) Thank you. Thank you for what just has to be monumental patience and completely depleted checkbooks. (Laughter.) You are the unsung heroes today and we thank you so much for raising and loving and supporting such fine young men and women. And I know they wouldn’t be here without all of you.
And to you graduates, I’ve heard you get more, quote, “guidance” than you might care for. A healthy dose of what we in the military call “intrusive leadership.” (Laughter.) But who’s to say? Those are just stories I hear around campus. (Laughter.) I learned early on in my naval career that the only way to really find out about what’s going on is to walk about, to see things for myself. So I came down here to see for myself what makes FAMU so special. (Cheers.) To take in 90.5, the Set – (laughter) – the Orange Room in the café and maybe, although it hasn’t happened yet, maybe get some of those chocolate cookies. (Laughter.)
Actually, I just wanted to be among the best and the brightest, be with the best and the brightest of our nation’s class of 2010. (Cheers, applause.) For sure I’m star-struck by the five-time Super Bowl Marching 100. (Cheers, applause.) Where are our Marching 100 grads? (Cheers.) That’s all right. (Cheers, applause.)
And of course, I’m anxious to see the hallowed ground of Florida A&M football excellence, the legacy of Coach Jake Gaither who challenged his players to be more than just athletes. And while developing them into men of character, they won a few football championships along the way. These icons may be the famous side of FAMU, but I believe they are but a couple of the hundreds of shining examples of FAMU achievements.
Along those lines, I really can’t go any further without mentioning another special group: Dean Henry Lewis and the Colleges of Pharmacy, Pharmaceutical Sciences and – (inaudible). (Cheers, applause.) Thank you for your exceptional compassion and leadership in the ongoing relief effort in Haiti. We really mustn’t forget there is still a great deal to be done for the incredibly resilient, peaceful people of Haiti. (Cheers, applause.) The troops and sailors I visited in February told me that their work there has been the most rewarding missions they’ve ever carried out in their life and I’m sure that’s the case with you. So thanks again.
And although I may look like a man who likes to give orders, trust me when I tell you that I’m not here to lecture you because I was hardly a model student myself. (Laughter.) I’m certainly not here to entertain you because I barely made it through an interview with Jon Stewart. (Laughter.) But I would be remiss if I didn’t take this opportunity to share with you some of my unique perspectives because I believe the changes I have seen, the people I have listened to and the lessons I have learned can help you navigate your future.
You already have the tools to be great. One of the greatest leaders of our time once said, “Everybody can be great because anybody can serve.” What does it mean to serve? Make no mistake. I’m not trying to twist the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, a man who preached and better yet practiced nonviolence. Service in uniform is not exactly what I’m driving at, although if the Marching 100 seniors feel like taking all that energy and precision to another level, I have some recruiting applications available in the back. (Laughter.)
The military has been good to me. I was raised a California kid, but I really grew up at sea. Ships have been my home and many sailors have been as close to me as my family. I would not have dedicated my life to it otherwise. I truly believe that the more than 2 million men and women of your militaries, some 210,000 of whom are deployed around the world right now as we speak, are the best I have ever seen. (Applause.) Not a day goes by when I am not proud of them and their families for the sacrifices they continue to make.
FAMU has fielded a strong ROTC program for 60 years, commissioning more than 1500 young second lieutenants and ensigns like Lt. Randolph Powell, class of 2008, of the 4th Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment. Lt. Powell is just finishing up a 12-month tour in Iraq, where he and his battle buddies built partnerships and security stations out of sand, sweat and teamwork – structures and training that go a long way towards helping their fellow soldiers in the 38th Iraq army defend their native land.
But I also believe there are many ways to serve something bigger than yourself. Many ways to make a difference, 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 grow.
Overseas and at home, the world needs young, bright people to serve the common cause of humanity. What makes Dr. King’s quote so powerful is his message that anybody can serve and that service will make everybody great. Service and citizenship has changed since 1968, the year Dr. King was assassinated and the year I graduated from Annapolis.
So too has the face of America changed. The faces of those who influence have become more diverse, more representative of the breadth and the depth of our country. And I believe that change represents the best in what’s possible in any democracy. It’s our differences, our ability to adapt that make America great. Diversity of thought, gender, ethnicity, faith or language truly brings us to e pluribus unum, out of many, one.
In my own life in 2005 when I was the head of the Navy, I went to a conference in New Orleans on diversity – ethnic diversity, gender diversity and I walked in with my immediate staff, which was all white male. 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, 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 all – I was the only white male in the group. (Laughter.) Now, that’s a lesson about young people telling their – (applause) – young people telling their seniors when they don’t have it right.
But what I remember most from that particular evening as I stepped back and looked at these incredibly talented young people who worked to help me succeed is the missed opportunity, the time it took me to figure that out. And in fact, all I did was create opportunities for them and they excelled.
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. (Applause.)
Since I was young, our world has become flatter, faster, much more open and much more collaborative. And I give you 20-somethings a lot of credit. You’re eager to be on the edge of our technologically advanced global marketplace. You aren’t afraid to try new things. You’re not afraid to make mistakes. Whereas my generation is just trying to figure it all out and hang on. (Laughter.)
It was a little scary setting up my Twitter account. (Laughter.) I tweet and they tweet back, who are you? However, now I’m receiving advertisements in my e-mail that are impossible to explain to my wife. (Laughter.) I tried to friend my son on Facebook. He ignored it. (Laughter.) Said it was dopey to be friends with his dad – (laughter) – at least online. And I have to admit as I walked through the crowd as we came in, I saw several individuals standing next to each other. They weren’t talking to each other; they were texting each other.
All kidding aside, I actually do like to use social media because I know that keeping up with the speed of information today is the only way to stay plugged in to what most of the men and women I lead – who are just about your age – are thinking. In addition to merely instant communications, modern technology can also save lives.
Where are our engineering science technology grads today? (Cheers, applause.) I know that your research – literally your research on sensors and imaging systems will help our military detect and combat its most lethal threats: improvised explosive devices and nuclear, chemical and biological attacks. Just by what you’ve learned here, you will be advancing science and saving the lives and limbs of countless men and women and children.
Business grads, where are you? (Cheers, applause.) You too can play a crucial responsible role in service of our national security. For American security largely depends on her economy, now more than ever. In a complex global marketplace, economic engines drive a nation’s stability. Where economies fail, violence usually flourishes. Entrepreneurship can help create growth. Growth creates jobs. Jobs yield productivity. Productivity leads to prosperity. And prosperous people with hopes for a better future for their children and grandchildren tend to resist the brand of extremism that plagues so many parts of the world.
Over the long term, some of the main drivers in a nation’s economy are education, health care and agriculture. So where are ag, education and health science grads? (Cheers.) Thank you for your commitment to the most fundamental aspects of global stability. In all my travels in countries around the world and particularly in Afghanistan right now, 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, help them pursue productive lives, we cannot hope to advance beyond more survival. I haven’t met a single leader anywhere in the world who doesn’t feel the same, who doesn’t share this fundamental truth about the future.
Now, in my view, the only thing certain about the future is that it is uncertain. It’s changing even as we sit here today. And you have the opportunity not only to embrace that change but to lead it. You will face challenges and the answers will rarely be clear. But whether there are challenges, there are opportunities. Speak truth to power, listen to your juniors, see problems through other people’s eyes and never be afraid to admit your mistakes.
What’s the best investment for the future? I’m looking at it. The future is you, Rattler Nation. (Cheers, applause.) You who serve your community, your country, your world. And you will be great. (Cheers.) As Dr. King preached so well, “Everybody can be great because anybody can serve…You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.” We get to greatness and we succeed in a life of service with the guidance, the grace and the love of our leaders and mentors.
People like Dorothy Height, whom at her passing last week, President Obama called the godmother of the civil rights movement and a hero to all Americans. (Applause.) And who reminded us that, quote, “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,” end quotes. May she rest in peace as in life she fought so hard for equality and the best values of our nation.
Class of 2010, as these great leaders and others less famous but equally great – our band directors, ROTC instructors, parents, faculty, alumni – have taught, serving is about caring. And as the FAMU motto implies, serving well is about excelling. Everybody here is a leader and everyone can be great because anybody can serve.
You and I stand on the shoulders of the greats who have come before us. Those who preceded us gave their best, so we could have the opportunity to be our best. Times are changing and your nation needs nothing less than your best. And doing so will be in the best Rattler tradition. Thank the ones who’ve led you and mentored you and loved you. Serve well and lead us into the future. Thank you, Florida A&M. Congratulations and God bless.