Video by Matt Haugen, WSU News
 
 
Selected segments of graduation speech, above, 
by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates.
For full speech, see below.
 
Full speech by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates
 
 
Commencement video above by Tim Marsh, WSU News
 
 
 
First photo of Marilyn Johnson, WSU Foundation, heading
to commencement ceremonies on her scooter in Pullman. Johnson earned her master’s degree. Photos by Tim Marsh, WSU News, and Tena Old, WSU Foundation.

PULLMAN, Wash. – Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates issued a ringing call to public service in addressing Washington State University graduates at the second of three commencement ceremonies held at the Beasley Performing Arts Coliseum on the university’s Pullman campus Saturday.

 
“It’s precisely during these trying times that America needs its best and brightest young people, from all walks of life, to step forward to bring their talents and fresh perspectives to bear on the challenges facing this country,” said Gates, who has served as defense secretary since December 2006 under presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. He has announced plans to retire later this year.
 
Gates spoke to just over 1,000 graduates of WSU’s College of Liberal Arts and Edward R. Murrow College of Communication.
“To serve our country, you don’t need to deploy in a war zone or a Third World country or be buried in a windowless cube in a gothic structure by the Potomac River. You don’t have to be a CIA spy or analyst or Navy SEAL who track down and bring to justice the most notorious terrorist in the world,” said Gates, making his only reference to Osama bin Laden, who was killed in a U.S. military operation in Pakistan Monday.
 
“Whatever the job, working in the public sector at some level offers a chance to serve your fellow citizens as well as learn the inner workings of our government and build skills that will stand you in good stead in facing other challenges in your career and in your life,” Gates said.
 
He urged graduates not to shrink from today’s challenges, saying that he can clearly remember other times – the Soviet Sputnik launch, the Vietnam War, the OPEC oil embargo and the economic crises of the late 1980s – when it seemed to some that the nation faced insurmountable obstacles.
 
“I lived through each of those periods of ‘declinism,’ when many were convinced that America was stuck in a downward spiral. And yet, after meeting the many challenges we faced head-on, our nation emerged from each of these periods stronger than before – and I am convinced that we will do so again,” he said.
 
Gates, whose wife Becky and son Brad are both WSU graduates, was warmly received by the crowd. He praised WSU’s efforts to help returning veterans realize the goal of earning a college degree and he administered the oath to 19 graduates of WSU’s ROTC program who were commissioned as officers.
 
Cook tells grads to stay competitive
 
The day’s three ceremonies, presided over by WSU President Elson S. Floyd, marked the university’s 115th spring commencement.
 
Speaking to graduates of the WSU colleges of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences, Engineering and Architecture, Pharmacy, Sciences and Veterinary Medicine at the first ceremony of the day, former WSU Dean and Professor Emeritus R. James Cook told the graduating students that America needs them to be and stay competitive in their chosen fields.
 
A member of the National Academy of Sciences who this year received the 2011 international Wolf Prize for Agriculture, Cook – who served as the R. J. Cook Endowed Chair in Wheat Research during his 40-year tenure at WSU – urged graduates to resolve themselves to lead the changes that will occur throughout their lifetimes, rather than simply attempt to keep pace with them.
 
“The U.S. now ranks 20th in high school completion rate among industrialized nations and 16th in college completion rate,” he said. “The total annual federal investment in research in mathematics, physical sciences and engineering is now equal to the increase in U.S. healthcare costs every nine weeks.”
 
Cook said a committee formed by the National Academy recently concluded that essentially no progress had been made over the past five years in strengthening the science and technology enterprise in America.
 
 “How can America be competitive if we the citizens that make up the nation’s workforce are not competitive in this global marketplace?” Cook asked. “Just assume that, whatever your field, someone will raise the bar. Why not have it be you?
 
“The world may be flat when it comes to the global marketplace and employment, but it is not flat when it comes to innovation,” he said. “The innovators of the world still want to pursue their dreams in America. No one knows exactly why, but somehow the environment in America brings out the best in entrepreneurship and innovation.”
 
Admiral: Build a foundation of good character
 
In addressing graduates of the WSU colleges of Business, Education and Nursing later Saturday afternoon, retired Admiral John S. Redd, the first Senate-confirmed director of the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center, was expected to stress the importance of maintaining a lifelong checklist of key personal qualities that will support success, including vision, excellence, character, teamwork, organization and respect.
 
“Character is both the most important and the most personal of the attributes you’ll need in life,” said Redd in his prepared remarks. “Your character reflects what you believe, which is the basis for your personal sense of morality. It drives everything else you do.
 
“Remember this,” he said. “If you fail, it will probably not be for lack of ability, but for lack of character. In short, your character is the foundation on which you build your life. Build it wisely. Guard it carefully.”
 
Redd served in several senior policy positions in the Pentagon and as executive director for the WMD Intelligence Commission.