At a commencement ceremony at Florida A&M University held Saturday, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff delivered a keynote speech evoking civil rights leader Martin Luther King’s notion that “everybody can be great, because anyone can serve.”
“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.”
Mullen said serving does not necessarily mean wearing a military uniform. He said he believes there are many ways to make a difference, whether it is through teaching, volunteer work, in the Peace Corps, or in other parts of the government at the federal or local level. He added there is a huge need for service, which is going to continue to grow.
“Overseas and at home, the world needs young, bright people to serve the common cause of humanity,” Mullen said.
The admiral said King’s message is great 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, and the nation has changed as well. Those who influence have become more diverse, “more representative of the breadth and the depth of our country,” Mullen said.
“It’s our differences [and] our ability to adapt that make America great, he said. “Diversity of thought, gender, ethnicity, faith or language truly bring us to ‘E Pluribus Unum’ – ‘Out of Many, One.’”
Mullen told the Class of 2010’s engineering science and technology graduates their research on sensors and imaging systems will save lives and limbs by helping the military detect and defeat threats such as roadside bombs and nuclear, chemical and biological attacks. Moreover, business graduates can contribute to national security, because America’s security depends largely on its economy, he said. He also praised agriculture, education and health sciences graduates for their commitment to “the most fundamental aspects of global security.”
Looking back at his travels around the world, particularly in Afghanistan, Mullen said schools and farms and hospitals are 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,” he said.