Volume 5, Number 1; March 2013
Emulate Those Who Are Serving and Those Who Have Served Before You
About the Author
Raymond E. Mabus, Jr. is the 75th United States Secretary of the Navy. Prior to joining the administration of President Barack Obama, Secretary Mabus served in a variety of top posts in government and the private sector. In 1987, he was elected as the youngest governor of Mississippi. He served subsequently as ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia during the Clinton administration. Prior to becoming governor, he was elected state auditor of Mississippi and served as a surface warfare officer in the US Navy aboard the cruiser USS Little Rock. Secretary Mabus is a native of Ackerman, Mississippi, and received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Mississippi, a master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University, and a law degree from Harvard Law School.
This paper is based on his December 14, 2012, commencement address to Texas Tech University graduates in Lubbock, TX.
Written by Raymond E. Mabus, Jr.
This university, as it has been since the very first students arrived here, all 914 of them in 1925, is one of the finest schools in the United States. As Chancellor Hance said, your graduates are leaders in every field. And that’s a testament not only to the skill and the talent of the faculty and the staff, but everybody sitting in front of me today. The Victory Bells ring for you!
To you today, you’ve done the work, you’ve put in the time, and you’ve made the effort. Today is yours. But in a very real sense, today belongs to a lot of other people too because you wouldn’t be here without them. Behind every one of you are the mothers and fathers, the grandmothers, the grandfathers, the brothers, the sisters, the friends, the coaches, and the teachers. Hundreds and hundreds of other people, a lot of them you probably don’t even know, helped to make today possible. Now, after the ceremony and I know you’re going to do this anyways, but give those who have supported you an extra hug. Thank them one more time, for what they’ve done, for the sacrifices that they’ve made, because today is their day just as much as yours.
To the parents who are sitting here today: I know exactly how you feel because in May I sat and watched my oldest daughter graduate. And, I felt that mixture of pride and sadness. The only confusing thing was that in my mind’s eye Elizabeth Mabus was still three years old, asking for one more ride on my shoulders, and I could not understand why a university would be granting a three-year-old a degree.
Today, it is also important for us to remember those who should be thanked often—those who stand the watch every day to keep us safe—those who have worn or are currently wearing the uniform of our country. Most of you who are graduating today were in middle school or younger when 9/11 happened. That’s the world you’ve grown up in. Earlier this year we marked the one-year anniversary of the joint operation led by Navy Seals that brought the world’s most notorious terrorist to justice, finally. And while those actions by the team that conducted the Bin Laden raid were truly extraordinary, equally extraordinary actions happen every day by those who serve and those who wear the cloth of this nation. Every sailor, every marine, every soldier, every coast guardsman, and every airman, is just as professional, just as dedicated, and just as skilled as those who carried out that mission. And we ought to be just as proud of every single one of them.
Your lives are intertwined with Texas Tech, and so you’re comfortable in dealing with numbers and statistics. Well here’s one, and it’s a statistic that ought to scare you. You’re among the twenty-five percent of Americans between seventeen and twenty-four years of age who are qualified to serve in our military. One in four! The remaining seventy-five percent are unqualified because they don’t have the education, because they don’t have the help, or perhaps because they have a criminal record. Now, in our military, in our society, and in our economy, there are no jobs and no room for strong backs and weak minds. And, there is one more number to keep in mind: Fewer than one percent of Americans today serve in the US Armed Forces. Stated differently, one percent keeps the other ninety-nine percent safe—one percent has volunteered and given freely—year after year after year. That same one percent has sacrificed day after day, enduring hardships, family separations, and all in an incredibly high operational tempo.
We have been at war for more than a decade. Thousands have paid the ultimate price. Tens of thousands more have come home with scars, both visible and invisible—scars that they will carry with them until their final days. We are able to do what we do because of what they have done and are doing. We are able to pursue our lives because they have been willing to risk and sometimes lose theirs. As was said so eloquently during World War II, they give their today for our tomorrow.
I have been incredibly fortunate to lead the Navy and Marine Corps, and to get to meet so many sailors and marines around the world doing amazing work on behalf of us all. But, I want to tell you about one day in the Navy and Marine Corps and what it means for this country. I picked one day: March 19, 2011. On that day, ships and submarines of the Navy launched cruise missiles over Libya to establish a no-fly zone and a big-deck amphibious ship provided air support and rescued an Air Force pilot that had gone down. On that same day we had 20,000 Marines in combat in Afghanistan. On that same day 20,000 sailors were at sea and on the ground, supporting that fight in Afghanistan. On that same day we had ships fighting pirates off the Horn of Africa. And, on that same day we had ships in the Caribbean interdicting drugs, along with other ships going around Africa and South America and through the South Pacific giving humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. On March 19, 2011, we had a carrier strike group giving aid to the Japanese after the terrible tsunami. On that same day we had an amphibious group of marines and sailors from Okinawa working in Japan—also giving aid. And, on that same day we had sailors and marines in countless countries doing countless things but all with the same purpose—protecting us. That’s one day, one day that our Navy and Marine Corps repeats often. That’s one day that represents the skill, talent, devotion, and patriotism that we have in the Navy and Marine Corps and all across our military.
To you today, you’ve done the work, you’ve put in the time, and you’ve made the effort. Today is yours. But in a very real sense, today belongs to a lot of other people too because you wouldn’t be here without them.
The graduates of this great university have served with distinction in every branch of our military service. Some sitting here today have been a part of that proud heritage, and some are about to join. Five members of this class are being commissioned this weekend from ROTC into the Army and the Air Force. And there are 1,100 veterans, active-duty military service members enrolled here; 400 faculty members and staff have military backgrounds, and over 1,000 military dependents call Texas Tech home. This has been the way at Texas Tech for a long time.
After World War II your university received more than its fair share of returning veterans. Some of the sixteen million people who served during that war came back, went to school on the GI bill, expanded their horizons, and expanded their lives. Many of your parents, grandparents, and great grandparents are part of that generation—the so-called “Greatest Generation” that literally saved our country. They grew up during the depression, won World War II, were tested in places like Iwo Jima and Anzio, Casablanca and Guadalcanal, Normandy and Midway. And during their early lives when they were no older than you, they saw more and experienced more than most of us could even imagine, and then they came back and changed America.
I want to tell you a quick story about one of them. A fellow Mississippian of mine, Jack Lucas from Hattiesburg, lied about his age to join the Marines at fourteen. He went all the way through boot camp and got to Hawaii with his unit when they found out how old he was. They separated him from his unit and told him they were going to send him home. But, Jack Lucas decided to stow away on a ship to keep from being sent home, so he got on the first ship that was leaving, not knowing where it was going. By the time they found him, it was too late to send him back. The ship was going to Iwo Jima. He went ashore with one of the first waves. He and his unit were in a foxhole when two grenades came in. Jack Lucas grabbed them both and fell on them. Now, the proverbial “sands of Iwo Jima” is composed of black volcanic material—very soft and very fine. Jack shoved the grenades as far down into that sand as he could. Both grenades went off and he was hurt pretty badly. Indeed, his unit thought he was dead, but a corpsman came by and found out that he was still alive and patched him up and got him back onto one of those ships and sent him home. He went to the White House where he was awarded the Medal of Honor. Then he went back home and started the ninth grade!
There are literally thousands of stories of heroism like Jack Lucas, and you here today carry that legacy. You are the descendants of that Greatest Generation. You have exactly the same potential: to change America, to make America better, and to change the world that the Greatest Generation secured. But, whether what you have done and what you will have done forty to seventy years from now is up to you and what you do from this day forward. Because one thing is very certain as you go into an uncertain world—there is no end to things that need doing. You certainly don’t have to join the military to serve, although we do need skilled, talented, and dedicated people.
There are so many ways to make things better, and there are acts of quiet heroism that go on every day. It’s the teacher staying after school to help a struggling student. It’s the nurse staying after the shift is ended with a patient. It’s the neighbor who mows the yard of an elderly neighbor. It’s the farmer who puts people through college anonymously not telling anyone, even his own family. It’s the Saddle Tramps and other organizations working on this campus for a better Texas Tech during the precious little spare time that you have. So, to you graduates: Do something bigger than yourself. Do something outside yourself. Do something to give back to this unique country of ours. Do something to help people that you will probably never know and they won’t know that you did it. Do something that’s not just about you or your personal advancement.
Now there’s nothing wrong with making money, and there’s nothing wrong with being a success in your chosen profession, and there’s nothing wrong and a whole lot right with taking care of yourself and your family. But, at the end of your life the most important things to you and our country are not going to be the money or the material possessions you have accumulated. I, for one, have never seen a hearse with a U-Haul attached. The important things are going to be the people you have loved, the lives you’ve improved, the futures you have made brighter. You don’t have to be in the Marine Corps, but maybe the Peace Corps. You don’t have to run for office, but you need to vote. Don’t let the issues of your day pass you by—get involved. Get involved in your community, your church, and your school. Get involved in your state, country, world, and be passionate about it. We need your heads, we need your hands, and we need your hearts. Do something that will last. Do something that you won’t see the results of the next day, the next year, or maybe ever. Wordsworth wrote that the best portion of a good man’s life is little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and love.
My father was an older member of that Greatest Generation. He died in 1986 when he was eighty-five years old. He owned a hardware store in Akron, Mississippi. He grew trees for a living. The last year of his life he did not cut a single tree, but he planted thousands. Now he knew for an absolute fact that he would never, ever derive any benefit from those trees. He knew for an absolute fact that he would never see them grow and mature. He knew for an absolute fact that none of what he was doing would he ever see come to fruition. But he did it. He did it as an act of hope, he did it as an act of faith, he did it for me, and he did it for his granddaughters that he never met. He did it for their children and their children, who I will never meet. He did it out of hope; he did it out of faith. So I want you to cherish this day, this graduation. And when it’s over, when you’ve turned in your caps and gowns, go out and do something that will be cherished while you’re here and when you’re gone. Live an act of faith, live an act of hope, decide what trees you’re going to plant. Congratulations!