Petraeus pushes for public service at Dickinson College commencement

2012-05-20T21:42:00Z 2012-05-20T21:48:00Z Petraeus pushes for public service at Dickinson College commencementBy Bill Landis, Sentinel Reporter The Sentinel
May 20, 2012 9:42 pm  • 

Don’t worry, Dickinson graduates, the CIA is hiring.

That was part of the opening remarks from David H. Petraeus, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, during his address to Dickinson College’s 2012 graduating class at Sunday’s commencement exercises held on the John Dickinson Campus at Old West.

While offered half in jest, Petraeus’ CIA job plug was part of the bigger message he conveyed to the 548 graduates who received degrees Sunday — that they pursue the path of public service.

“Ours is a time with no shortage of pressing issues,” Petraeus said. “Our country and world need thoughtful, dedicated and talented people to help find and implement new solutions to stubborn problems. As a result we need many of you to choose careers in public service and in other arenas in which you can help make a real difference in the life of our country.”

During his opening remarks, Dickinson President William G. Durden promised those in attendance that Petraeus’ words would provide a “profound lesson in leadership.” Given his background, Petraeus is the right man for the job when it comes to providing such teachings.

He retired from the United States Army as a four-star general in 2011 after a distinguished 37-year career. His last post was as commander of the NATO International Security Assistance force and U.S. Forces-Afghanistan. Petraeus’ other four-star commands included assignment as the 10th commander, United State Central Command, and as commanding general, Multi-National Force Iraq, where he oversaw all coalition forces in Iraq.

He graduated as a distinguished cadet from the United States Military Academy in 1974, and earned his M.P.A. and Ph.D in international studies from Princeton University.

But when urging students to pursue a career in public service, Petraeus invoked the image of those currently serving in the armed forces, and used them as the benchmark for what can be accomplished through public service and hard work.

“Our troopers have in truth helped us learn yet again that there are few tasks in life of value that can be earned by any other course than through sheer hard work,” Petraeus said. “But even sheer hard work is only productive if it is informed. I encourage you to make yourself an expert in your field or craft, to be a voracious reader and always thirst for more knowledge and more understanding.”

A salute to his wife

Petraeus, who was originally scheduled to speak at last year’s commencement but couldn’t due to his service in Afghanistan, also called on the experience of his wife, Holly, a 1974 Dickinson graduate, as an example of public service in a non-military arena.

He noted his wife’s steadfast support during his often turbulent military career that involved 24 moves and overseas absences during combat commands. Holly herself chose the path of service, not only to her family, including daughter Anne, who graduated from Dickinson in 2004, but also to her country in her role as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Office of Servicemember affairs.

Holly, who was also present at Saturday’s ceremony, was honored by President Durden and, keeping with Dickinson tradition, presented David Petraeus with his honorary degree, doctor of public service.

Others receiving honorary degrees Saturday were Nobel Prize-winning author Herta Müller, NPR’s Nina Totenberg and John H. Adams, co-founder of the Natural Resources Defense Council. Environmental author William McKibben received the Inaugural Sam Rose ‘58 and Julie Walters Prize for Global Environmental Activism.

But as Professor Douglas Stuart said in his introduction of Petraeus, it was the former general’s presence that made Sunday’s exercises memorable for the graduating class. Stuart mentioned that some may not remember who the commencement speaker was at their college graduation, but he doesn’t think that be the case for Dickinson’s 2012 class.

“This will not be true for today’s class,” Stuart said. “We are indeed fortunate to have with us a person who at a relatively young age has already achieved a place of honor in modern military history.”

Military legacy

In his introduction, Stuart likened Petraeus’ military legacy to that of General George C. Marshall, the U.S. Army Chief of Staff during World War II. He also made note of the U.S. Senate’s 94-0 vote to appoint Petraeus as director of the CIA, “at a time when members of Congress don’t seem to be in agreement on what day of the week it is.”

Indeed, Petraeus serves as a prime example of leadership and service to one’s country. Through his remarks and others throughout the day, it was clear that high expectations have been placed on this Dickinson graduating class, and other graduating classes throughout the country.

With 34 percent of the Dickinson class graduating with honors, six having already accepted positions with Teach for America and 13 being commissioned into the U.S. Army as 2nd Lieutenants, it appears that some have already chosen the path of public service.

Though Petraeus took the military path to public service, he acknowledged that the military is not for everyone. Educators, doctors, politicians, businessmen and volunteers all have a role to play in Petraeus’ vision of the future of public service.

The one thing that is certain is that is most definitely a joint effort.

“Even on the battle fields of the past decade in Iraq and Afghanistan, I have seen that progress can only be achieved by committed, selfless individuals working across a wide range of disciplines,” Petraeus said. “There are few challenges that can be resolved with only one single approach. No matter the problem, solutions require the endeavors of many. It is thus the character, spirit and quality of service that counts.”

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(1) Comments

  1. Windbag Lawyer
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    Windbag Lawyer - May 21, 2012 8:06 am
    They all get an "A" in self esteem and an "F" in street crossing. Crossing guards in College? They will all get hit by cars while rushing to attend some sort of graduate philosophy program at some state school
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