Secretary of Defense James Mattis delivered a commencement address chock-full of life advice at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, New York, on Saturday.
“There’s rocks and shoals in life, and especially for leaders,” he said. “By that choice, you are now going to be in a position where others will count on you … When destiny taps you on the shoulder, you have to be ready, whether you’re going to be on shore or at sea … As small as our Merchant Marine may be today, it is in every war plan I review.”
Mattis congratulated the graduates for their hard work and recounted the history of the Merchant Marines. He discussed World War II, when the service kept open a “lifeline … to our allies,” and 9/11, when Merchant Marine cadets “rushed unbidden toward fire and smoke, mobilizing to assist in the recovery … of citizens” after the terrorist attack. (RELATED: Mattis: Number of Americans Qualified For Military Service Is Dropping)
Integrity was a strong theme in Mattis’ speech.
“Always run the ethical midfield,” he said. “If you make a mistake, you’re not going to be out-of-bounds. If you run right on the boundary lines and trying to stay just inside, even a common mistake can have you out-of-bounds, and there’s nothing your seniors can do at that point.”
Mattis also advised the grads to be true leaders. (RELATED: Trump Officially Orders US Military To Create A ‘Space Force’)
“Take full responsibility for your reaction to adversity,” he said. “In a country sometimes that’s not known for this anymore, remember who brought you up … Do not celebrate victimhood. Life as a leader is hard, so enjoy it, embrace it and practice your skill. Put it to use when the hard times come.”
His last charge to the newest Merchant Marines was powerful.
“Lastly, I want you to hold something sacred and fix your gaze on it,” he said. “Fix your gaze on it like you do on the North Star when you’re navigating, and chart a course through what are going to be ethically perilous waters. We need leaders who are going to show a strong sense of ethics. Today, you need to be a source of strength.”
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