Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates will deliver the commencement address at graduation this May. Of all Washington D.C. political veterans whom UT officials might pick to set an example for the graduating class of 2012, Gates is a commendable choice. Gates, who retired from his government post last year, made history as the first U.S. secretary of defense to serve in both Republican and Democrat administrations. His bipartisanship has stood out at a time when partisanship prevails in the nation’s capital.
Since he graduated from William & Mary in 1965 with a bachelor’s degree in history, Gates has demonstrated an unyielding commitment to serving others. These days, young people who are beginning their careers in a sluggish economy hear much about the need for personal ambition to develop their own careers — all the more reason one hopes Gates will impart his values of serving others to UT students. Gates’ career illustrates that personal success is not an expense of sacrificing for others but instead that succeeding in your work requires that you serve others. Gates chose to serve his country.
President George W. Bush appointed Gates secretary of defense in 2006, and President Barack Obama then asked Gates to continue serving through the first three years of his administration.
Prior to taking the helm at the Department of Defense, Gates spent nearly 27 years working for the Central Intelligence Agency, where he became the only employee in the agency’s history to start as an entry-level employee and become its director. He spent nine years at the National Security Council, working under six presidents. Between 2002 and 2006, Gates served as president of Texas A&M University. When Gates concluded his tenure as secretary of defense last summer, Obama gave Gates the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
As far as commencement speakers go, Gates’ long list of accolades and accomplishments is not unusual. What is unusual is that Gates has preached and practiced his belief that serving others is a cause above choosing right or wrong. Robert Gates spent most of his life being effective on behalf of others.
“I believe the life of Bob Gates is a lesson,” Obama said when Gates retired, “especially to young Americans — a lesson that public service is an honorable calling, that we can pass our country better and stronger to those who follow.”
We can only hope for more people like Robert Gates to serve as one of this country’s leaders. Of course, all the better if they hail from UT.