By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
May 27, 2010 - Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, returned to his two sons' high school alma mater here today to encourage this year's graduating class to take risks, push the envelope and be willing to fail in the quest for ever-higher goals.
Speaking at the St. Mary's High School graduation ceremony, Mullen also called on the 126 graduates to seek ways to serve in whatever ways they choose, and to become leaders in charting new courses for the future. He also encouraged the graduates to use any uncertainties they may feel facing the future as a springboard to what's ahead.
"Embrace that uncertainty, and embrace it in a way that keeps your options open for the future," said Mullen, as he stood on the grounds of the historic Charles Carroll House, overlooking Spa Creek.
"Be taking risks," the chairman urged. "Be someone who is willing to push the envelope and sometimes fail."
Failure in itself can provide some valuable lessons, Mullen told the students. "When you've pushed, and when you fail, how do you react to that?" he asked. "How do you get up off the floor once that occurs? Because it happens in life."
Mullen told the graduates they're well-equipped with what it takes to rebound.
Recognizing that all members of the graduating class will continue their educations at a college, university or military preparatory school, Mullen encouraged them to apply what they learn by serving in a way that will affect society in a positive manner.
"You are a generation ... that is very inclined to serve," he said. While paying tribute to nine St. Mary's graduates headed to military academies, service academy preparatory schools or ROTC, Mullen said serving in the military is just one of many ways the students can make a difference.
"It can be through teaching or volunteer work in the Peace Corps or government at the local or national levels," he said. "I look forward to your impact on society, your impact on the future, which will make such a big difference."
Regardless of the paths they choose, Mullen urged the graduates to be willing to lead when leadership is needed and to keep their options open so they're able to adapt to life's constant changes. "Keep thinking," he said. "Keep dreaming of the possibilities that are out there – outside of Annapolis, outside of America - and literally, outside yourselves."
Mullen recognized the importance of education in developing the kinds of skills and aptitudes the United States and the world needs. He noted that his friend, Greg Mortenson, author of "Three Cups of Tea" and "Stones into Schools," repaid villagers in Pakistan who had saved his life after a failed mountain-climbing mission on K-2 by building desperately needed schools.
Mortenson's tireless efforts have brought many schools to both Afghanistan and Pakistan, the chairman said, all providing a long-sought education to young girls as well as boys.
"So I hope you can find it within yourself to be grateful about the gift of education you have received here, in and out of the classroom," he told the St. Mary's graduates.
Mullen wished the graduates well as they go on to their next endeavors. "May you hold fast to your values and personality in the face of so much change," he said. "And with service and compassion for others, may you lead the change of the future."
Mullen's two sons are St. Mary's graduates. John Mullen graduated in 1997, and Michael Mullen in 1999. Both went on to attend the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, following in their father's footsteps.