You, Too, Can Shape History,’ Gates Tells Graduates

WASHINGTON — Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates took his mes­sage of pub­lic ser­vice to grad­u­ates of North Dako­ta State Uni­ver­si­ty today and Uni­ver­si­ty of Okla­homa yes­ter­day, urg­ing young peo­ple to “con­sid­er a life of ser­vice.”

“I say to each of you, as some­one who start­ed out just anoth­er kid from the plains, that you, too, can shape his­to­ry,” Gates said in pre­pared remarks to the Okla­homa grad­u­ates. The sec­re­tary, a Kansas native, has announced he will retire this sum­mer, end­ing four decades of pub­lic service. 

“I’ve served eight pres­i­dents and been around the world more times than I can count,” he said. “Most recent­ly, I’ve held the great trust, my great­est hon­or since enter­ing pub­lic ser­vice, … of guid­ing and look­ing out for those who defend us. They fight to pro­tect the free­doms and oppor­tu­ni­ties that all Amer­i­cans enjoy — free­doms and oppor­tu­ni­ties that can take any one of you wher­ev­er you choose to go.” 

Quot­ing from Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma, Gates said in his pre­pared state­ment that grad­u­ates can go wher­ev­er they choose, but only “if you have the courage to put your foot firm­ly into the course of history.” 

Gates said he was hon­ored to com­mis­sion grad­u­at­ing ROTC cadets — 10 in Okla­homa, nine in North Dako­ta — into the Army, Navy and Air Force. “You join an Amer­i­can mil­i­tary that has been fight­ing mul­ti­ple wars at an incred­i­ble tem­po over the past decade,” he said. “This is the true patri­o­tism of the deed.” 

The sec­re­tary urged the grad­u­ates to “keep the faith” of the ideals and beliefs Amer­i­ca was found­ed on. “I see that faith every day in the faces of the young men and women of the mil­i­tary who have vol­un­teered to serve this great nation,” he said. “Over the past decade, hun­dreds of thou­sands of young Amer­i­cans in uni­form have vol­un­teered to put their lives on the line to defend us — to set aside their dreams so you can ful­fill your dreams.” 

Gates also told them to not be afraid to pur­sue their own ide­al­ism, some­thing best done through pub­lic ser­vice. “If you scratch deeply enough, you will find that those who serve — no mat­ter how out­ward­ly tough or jad­ed or ego­tis­ti­cal — are, in their heart of hearts, roman­tics and ide­al­ists. And opti­mists. We actu­al­ly believe we can make a dif­fer­ence, that we can improve the lives of oth­ers, that we can bet­ter the future of this coun­try and of the world.” 

The sec­re­tary warned against some pub­lic sen­ti­ments that the Unit­ed States should scale back its glob­al lead­er­ship role in light of record deficits and 10 years of war. “The lessons of his­to­ry tell us we must not allow our frus­tra­tions to cause us to with­draw from the world or dimin­ish our abil­i­ty or our deter­mi­na­tion to deal with the threats and chal­lenges on the hori­zon,” he said. 

Gates quot­ed Pres­i­dent Theodore Roo­sevelt in say­ing that a nation that absolves itself from duties around the world for­feits its place “among the peo­ples that shape the des­tiny of mankind.” 

“Are we, as a nation, will­ing to for­feit our place to shape not only our own future, but the future of this world with which we all are so intrin­si­cal­ly linked?” the sec­re­tary said. “It falls on us as Amer­i­cans to lead, to shape the course of world events, to face chal­lenges, to make the nec­es­sary sac­ri­fices and take the nec­es­sary risks to defend our val­ues and our interests.” 

For Amer­i­ca to con­tin­ue to be a force for good in the world, “the most able and ide­al­is­tic of its young peo­ple — of you — must step for­ward and accept the bur­den and the duty of pub­lic ser­vice,” Gates said. 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

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