University of Oklahoma Commencement

By Gates, Robert M. | U.S. Department of Defense Speeches, May 13, 2011 | Go to article overview

University of Oklahoma Commencement

Gates, Robert M., U.S. Department of Defense Speeches

As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, Norman, OK, Friday, May 13, 2011

To the members of the University of Oklahoma Class of 2011: Congratulations. I know that most of you are thinking one thing at this point: I hope he keeps this short. Don't worry, having presided over 39 commencements when I was at Texas A&M, I learned the importance of brevity on occasions such as this. I also know that I stand between you and a great party--and for some, the continuation of a great party.

To friends and family members--a special thanks for the love and support you have given to these young people over many years. To the parents: you must be welling up with pride at the achievements of your children. Having put two children through college, I know there are many sighs of relief as well, and you are probably already planning how to spend your newly re-acquired disposable income. Forget it. Trust me on this. If you think you've written your last check to your son or daughter, dream on. The National Bank of Mom and Dad is still open for business.

I guess today I'm supposed to give you some advice on how to succeed. I could quote the billionaire J. Paul Getty, who offered sage wisdom on how to get rich. He said, "Rise early, work late, strike oil." Or, Alfred Hitchcock, who explained, "There's nothing to winning really. That is, if you happen to be blessed with a keen eye, an agile mind, and no scruples whatsoever."

Well, instead of those messages, my words of advice for success today come from two great women. First, opera star Beverly Sills, who said, "There are no short cuts to any place worth going." And second, from Katherine Hepburn, who wrote, "Life is to be lived. If you have to support yourself, you had bloody well find some way that is going to be interesting. And you don't do that by sitting around wondering about yourself."

The example I'd set before you of a life well-lived has to be your own President David Boren, one of the great public servants of his generation. He set the gold standard for bi-partisan congressional oversight of national security, and I'm deeply honored that he asked me to be here tonight.

I have a great deal to thank David for--he's been a mentor and friend for nearly three decades. I got to know him well when I was at CIA and he was a member, and later chairman, of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. He was involved in getting me my two government jobs--he played a critical role in my confirmation as Director of Central Intelligence, and he also introduced me to the Senate Armed Services Committee when I was nominated for Secretary of Defense. Some days in Washington I wonder if I should really be thanking him for that.

Seeing David here fills me with no small measure of envy. He and I worked together a lot in the government, but where we really bonded was as fellow university presidents. When David was offered the presidency of OU in 1994, he asked me to come see him and talk it. We batted the idea around for about an hour, until I finally asked him the critical question: "When you're in the car or on a plane day-dreaming, are you day-dreaming about what you could accomplish in the United States Senate or what you could accomplish as President of the University of Oklahoma?" He laughed and said, "Well if you put it that way, it's an easy decision." And as they say, the rest is history.

Tomorrow, David will stay here in Oklahoma, guiding one of the nation's great land-grant universities, the kind of institution that's made American higher education the best in the world, as he has for seventeen extraordinarily productive and influential years. I, on the other hand, get to return to a town built on a swamp, and in so many ways, still a swamp. But as you may have read in the newspapers--ask your parents what those are--my swamp dwelling days are numbered.

I know David's job isn't all sunshine and roses. …

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