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Text of Maj. Gen. Mike Myatt's Commencement Speech

Johnson Coliseum, Sam Houston State University
Huntsville, Texas
May 17, 2003

Good morning to the Class of 2003. I am honored to be here-- honored to have been introduced by our university president, whom I first met in my junior year as a student of Sam Houston State--a person we all knew at the time would rise to do great things for mankind.

General Myatt
Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Mike Myatt

In 1876, an internal memo circulated throughout the Western Union organization. It read, "This telephone has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value."

In 1895, Lord Kelvin wrote, "Heavier than air flying machines are impossible."

In 1899, Charles Duell, then commissioner of the U. S. Patent Office, said, "Everything that can be invented has been invented."

In 1927, when silent movies were the rage, Harry Warner said, "Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?"

In 1943, Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM wrote, "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers."

In 1949, John von Neumann said, "It would appear that we have reached the limits of what is possible to achieve with computer technology."

In 1977, Ken Olson, CEO of Digital Equipment Corporation said, "There is no reason for any individuals to have a computer in their home."

With this type of thinking, one may wonder how the world has progressed at all.

I'm currently reading the book by Dava Sobel, titled "Galileo's Daughter." You know, I was a physics major at Sam Houston. We studied Galileo. But I had forgotten that from 400 B. C. to 1632 A. D. the world accepted the thinking and philosophies of the ancient Greeks as fact. That's more than 2,000 years! This included Aristotle's view that the earth was stationary and the sun rotated around the earth.

With an inquisitive, sharp mind Galileo set about testing and questioning these theories and ultimately disproving them. The Catholic Church, other philosophers and ultimately the world were surprised and concerned that he was literally changing the way the universe functioned. The personal cost for Galileo was high; the Catholic Church sentenced him to prison. Galileo endured and his ideas prevailed, changing the way we view the world and our universe.

He was able to do this because he lived by an important ideal which he articulated in a book he wrote, titled "The Assayer." He said: "I believe that good philosophers fly alone, like eagles, and not in flocks like starlings. It is true that because eagles are rare birds, they are little seen and less heard, while birds that fly like starlings fill the sky with shrieks and cries, and where ever they settle, they befoul the earth beneath them."

There were shrieks and cries all around Galileo at the time of this discoveries. Many tried to thwart his progress, discount his ideas, call him crazy, and, as Galileo said it, "befoul the earth." Yet he endured. Willing to fly alone, with his own ideas, he changed the world.

Today is your graduation, your commencement for the rest of your life, your closure on one phase of your life, and the beginning of another. Up to this point, others have made many of your choices for you. Which courses you had to take, the days, the hours you were to attend classes, and so forth. After today, your destiny will largely be determined by you.

You get to decide if you will be an eagle or a starling, a Galileo or a Lord Kelvin. You get to decide whether you will challenge the status quo and think the unthinkable. You get to decide whether you will make a difference--or merely go with the flow.

President John F. Kennedy said it well. "One man can make a difference. Everyone ought to try."

I can assure you that your future employers, the owners, the CEOs, the big bosses are looking for eagles. They don't want mere starlings in their midst. They will hire you so that you can make a difference in their organization--to make it more efficient, more effective, and more profitable. Because you are college graduates, society at large expects you to rise above the rest, to be an eagle, whether it is in your community, in your church, or your workplace. Even your family will expect more of you.

From my personal experience all employers are looking for employees who make right decisions, the morally correct, honest choices based on selfless devotion to duty. You know what is right and what is wrong. We have seen in these last couple of years some very well publicized examples of corporate executives making bum decisions, choosing what they knew, deep down, to be wrong-- and they were caught.

As a graduate from a very fine university, you will be scrutinized. Others will observe your character. Most of you will be expected to fill a leadership role in your future employment, because you have earned a college degree. In the Marine Corps, we have a saying that wherever you find two Marines, one of them is in charge. The business world is the same, expecting you to stand up, take charge, demonstrate your character, and do the right things, leading those who work for you in the right direction.

Galileo and others demonstrated that making a difference, setting an example, isn't easy. It requires special people with special motivations, and character--individuals with integrity, honor, the courage and commitment to do the right things; a vigor for life, and a concern for others.

From personal experience I've learned that some co-workers will resent your questioning the status quo. Perhaps even your immediate supervisor will not want you to find ways to make improvements to their work processes and procedures. There will be many who will oppose change of any form. They are comfortable with the way things are. President Woodrow Wilson said it well when he said, "If you want to make enemies, try to change something."

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Guiliani's book titled "Leadership" reiterates this idea. He tells that in his youth his father insisted he learn to box. He became a pretty good boxer. Once he had to deal with an older kid who was a bully. Rudy chose to stand up to the bully by punching his lights out, and the bully cried like a baby. The result was that the older boy quit being a bully; a positive result. However, when Rudy's mother heard that he had punched the bully, she ordered him to apologize to the bully. Rudy refused twice and his mother slapped him twice; a negative result. The lesson learned was that even when you do what you think is right, not all of the consequences are positive. But the good will outweigh the bad.

Think about what kind of world we would have if we didn't have those who questioned the status quo. We wouldn't have the airplane. We wouldn't have the computer. We wouldn't have talking movies. We wouldn't have progress! We would not even have the liberty and freedoms we enjoy!

It's for this reason that I encourage you today to make a significant contribution in your life to your new organization. Be curious. Ask questions. Be bold and daring. Be confident, and you will make a difference. By doing so, you help all mankind.

George MacDonald Frazier wrote a book titled "Quartered Safe Out Here," focusing on his autobiographical writings about his own military unit fighting in Burma during World War II. He says in the introduction: "Life is like a piece of string with knots in it: the knots being those moments that live in the mind forever, and the intervals being hazy, half recalled times when I have a fair idea of what was happening, in a general way, but cannot be sure of dates or places or even the exact order in which events took place."

I can assure you that I have a knot in my life's string about my graduation day. It doesn't seem so long ago that I was wearing a cap and gown, sitting like you are, wishing the speaker would be brief and that the ceremony would pass rather quickly so that I would be able to claim the title, "college graduate, the first of my family."

To be honest, I don't have a clue who was the commencement speaker when I graduated--and I suspect you will have that same experience about your graduation today--which helps me put all this in perspective. I don't even remember what he actually said; but, I do remember the smells, the temperature, and the feelings.

So whether you remember my stories or council, remember this day. Make it a knot in your string of life. Know that this university has prepared you; given you tools for success and an educated mind. You are blessed to live in a country that encourages progress, that rewards imagination, that gives you the freedom to make choices. You have an opportunity to make a difference. Be an eagle! Soar above the rest!

Thank you!

- END -

(See also, General Myatt is Commencement Speaker)

SHSU Media Contact: Frank Krystyniak
May 17, 2003
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