By Jim Garamone
DoD News, Defense Media Activity
FORT LESLEY J. McNAIR, Washington, D.C., June 18, 2015 – National Defense University graduates will be ready for whatever comes their way, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said during the university’s graduation ceremony here today.
Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey said this year marks the 19th anniversary of his graduation from the university.
“My time at this university contributed mightily to preparing me for what I now found is my task,” Dempsey said.
More than 600 senior officers and civilians representing some 60 nations received degrees at the graduation ceremony. Dempsey called the school the “preeminent leadership university in the world.”
A 'Monomyth' Journey
“You are among the best leaders and thinkers from our services, our civilian workforce and from the 60 nations represented here today,” the chairman said. “You earned this spot and we are proud of your accomplishment.”
Dempsey talked to the graduates about the idea of a Monomyth -- American mythologist Joseph Campbell’s word for the hero’s story. The idea of the monomyth is shared among cultures, races and religions. The Iliad, the Chanson de Roland, Star Wars are all examples of use of the monomyth.
Essentially, “there’s a person who in the face of danger or adversity, displays courage and is willing to make sacrifices for the greater good. That is the protagonist,” Dempsey said. “He or she sets off on a journey composed of three parts -- departure, initiation and return.
“It should sound familiar to each of you, because it is your life,” he added.
Dempsey said the graduates are prepared to take that journey.
“The things you have learned over the past year are preparing you for the challenges that lie ahead -- for the times that will become your defining moments,” he said. “The joy of life is not in the summit, but in the perseverance displayed in the ascent and the character building that occurs during the occasional descent.”
Dempsey said the graduates are all volunteers who came forward to make the country and world a better place.
“You didn’t do it for a life of ease or comfort. You did it because there was work to be done, because you felt you could put your talents to use for the greater good,” he said. “Rather than stay put, you ventured away from the familiar to be an active maker of peace instead of a passive consumer of it.”
This is, again, a classic example of the monomyth, the chairman said.
Dempsey emphasized that the graduates must be prepared when history calls.
“The challenges will await you,” he said. “For some of you, the challenge will be encountering violent extremism. For others, you will patrol the expanse of the Pacific Ocean or fly the skies over Eastern Europe to prevent instability from taking root or from spreading.”
Some of the graduates will defend the cyber world from faceless adversaries still intent on doing harm, Dempsey said. “No matter what your specialty, you can be sure that challenges lie ahead and we will need you to overcome them,” the chairman said.
Graduation does not mean the end of challenges, he said.
“As you rise in rank and assume larger responsibility, there will be tests of your ethics and of your character,” Dempsey said. “You must succeed there as well. The work we do requires it, the people we serve deserve it and the nation we serve expects it. It is no longer enough to be proficient, we must be principled.”