Admiral Michael Mullen

The Navy’s core values of “honor, courage, and commitment” perfectly describe a career—and a life—of service to our nation. Your piercing observation that “don’t ask, don’t tell” directed “young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens” will long be remembered for paving the way for the repeal of a policy that was beneath America’s values and its dignity. Through this honest, courageous, and principled reflection, you provided, not for the first time, an indelible example of leadership of the very highest caliber. What experience produces such a leader? Yours has been, in some respects, counterintuitive. Born to parents who worked amidst the glamour and spectacle of Hollywood, you never planned for a life in the military, deciding to travel east to Annapolis only after the Naval Academy offered a scholarship. After graduation and a tour of duty in Vietnam during one of that war’s bloodiest stretches, you felt compelled to wrestle with the impact of this controversial war on a divided nation. Eventually, you would come to distill your own lessons from that period. You made use of this formative experience over the course of a more than four-decade military career, distinguishing yourself as an astute strategist focused upon America’s role in the world, the proper balance of hard and soft power, and the connection between financial stability and national security. A steady ascent through the ranks culminated in your exemplary service for two presidents of different parties as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. During this time, you oversaw the end of the combat mission in Iraq and the development of a new military strategy in Afghanistan. You are admired across the military as a man of quiet candor, deeply committed to the welfare and reputation of the armed services and never without the time to talk to active service members and veterans about their personal struggles. We are fortunate, at Columbia, to have heard your experienced voice and wise counsel firsthand, as your partner in finally disposing of a half-century-old rift between higher education and the military over the presence of ROTC on university campuses. The historic rapprochement you helped to achieve led directly to the reinstatement on our campus of the Naval ROTC, a long overdue development in harmony with Columbia’s thriving community of student veterans and reservists. In this and other matters, you have urged the nation to bridge the divide between military and civilian society, reminding us that mutual respect between the two is a source of America’s strength. St. Francis of Assisi counseled that our lives on earth gain their meaning from “honest service, love, sacrifice, and courage.” It is the rare individual whose life is devoted to serving others, and rarer still to find such a public servant with the integrity and fortitude needed to call us to our highest ideals. You are such a person. For your service, your love, your sacrifice, and your courage, Columbia is proud to welcome you back to our campus and present you with the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.