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Dempsey Urges Sun Devil Grads to Seek, Develop Resilience

By Jim Garamone
WASHINGTON — Resilience is the key to dealing with the uncertainty of life, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told graduates at Arizona State University in Tempe last night. 

Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey was the keynote speaker at the graduation ceremony. He told the Sun Devil graduates that they need to keep growing to succeed in life. 

The general used a hurricane forecasting analogy saying weather forecasters always place a cone of uncertainty in front of a projected storm track. 

“That’s because the atmosphere is an incredibly complex and unpredictable system, Dempsey said. “So it goes, the farther they project into the future, the wider the cone, the greater the uncertainty about their forecast.” 

The future is even more uncertain -- for individuals and for the nation, he said. 

“I want to challenge you to think about how you prepare for the storms of life,” the chairman said. 

Dempsey has often said the formula for success in life is to be curious and creative. 

“There’s another quality that’s going to be just as important … and that’s resilience,” he said. “Life will call on you to be really resilient.” 

There are setbacks in life, and how a person responds to those setbacks really sets success. 

“When things don’t work the first, the second, or even the tenth or eleventh time, when there are setbacks and hardships, you persevere and learn,” Dempsey said. 

“Resilience is the indispensable tool you can have in your toolbox for a successful, happy life -- no matter what profession you choose,” he said. “Resilient individuals and institutions are both better prepared for an uncertain future, and able to shape the future to a better one.” 

Americans have always been a resilient people, Dempsey said. 

“It’s part of the American psyche that when we are challenged -- when 9/11, when Hurricane Katrina, when Boston strikes -- we pick ourselves back up, we learn, we rebuild and we grow,” he said. “It isn’t easy, but it’s what we do.” 

The chairman quoted Britain’s World War II Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s famous 1941 speech, “Never give in. Never, never, never, never -- in nothing, great or small, large or petty -- never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense.” 

In a decade of war, American service members have learned resilience, the chairman said. 

“Resilience is what actually defines them,” Dempsey said. “We’ve learned in the military that resiliency isn’t something you have to be born with -- you can actually learn, build, and train for it.” 

Resilience is not only rooted in principles and shaped by experiences, “it is rooted in the habits of the mind,” the general said. 

Military personnel have learned that resilience can be learned and kept ready for when it is needed most, Dempsey said. 

“That takes a dominance of courage over timidity and an appetite of adventure over the love of ease,” he said. “It takes a conspiracy of optimism and willing anticipation of opportunities to build firmness of character and strength of heart.” 

Succeeding in the world means an acceptance of uncertainty, adversity and failure and recognition that wisdom and progress come from these. 

“It’s understanding as C.S. Lewis did, that ‘hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny,’” Dempsey said. “A resilient mindset allows you to take risk and to reach higher than if you fear the failure it might involve.”