ANNAPOLIS, MARYLAND - Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan had a message for the next generation of naval officers Friday: What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.
Speaking at the U.S. Naval Academy’s commencement ceremony in Annapolis, Maryland, on Friday, Shanahan encouraged new graduates to embrace the mantra of Japanese samurai in their service to the United States.
“If you ever studied the samurai culture in feudal Japan, you know the most feared, most dangerous of all samurai were those who had felt the cut of their opponent’s sword, and lived to fight the next battle,” Shanahan said, according to a transcript of his speech. “Why? Because they no longer feared the sword. They could — and would — press the fight, knowing the danger but unafraid of it.”
More than 1,000 midshipmen graduated from the military school in Annapolis. Each received a Bachelor of Science degree and most were commissioned as either navy ensigns or second lieutenants in the marines.
Shanahan, who worked for Boeing for more than three decades, served as the Pentagon’s No. 2 official from July 2017 until he was appointed acting secretary in January. He took over after former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis resigned in December over policy differences with President Donald Trump.
Mattis, a former marine general, did not attend Friday’s ceremony but was recognized as an honorary member of the class of 2019 for being the “perfect example” of service to the midshipmen.
The White House earlier this month announced Trump intends to nominate Shanahan as defense secretary, ending months of speculation. The nomination announcement came two weeks after the Pentagon’s watchdog agency cleared Shanahan of wrongdoing in connection with allegations that he had used his official position to favor Boeing.
As the acting secretary, Shanahan has focused on implementing the national defense strategy that was developed during Mattis’ tenure and emphasizes a shift from the resources and tactics required to fight small wars against extremist groups to what Shanahan calls “great power competition” with China and Russia.
Shanahan also urged graduates to change the status quo and stand their ground in the face of ethical failure, urging them to “set the standard on preventing sexual harassment and assault” among ranks.
He called on midshipmen to “set the climate,” transform the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, and be an example for subordinates, peers and leaders.
“When you see ethical failure — in uniform or out, by military members or others — you must become gravity. You and your commitment must be unshakable, regardless of the circumstances …,” he said. “Sexual assault and harassment degrades the dignity of our teammates, and we are on the side of personal dignity in this era of renewed great power competition.”
He told the graduates to seek out difficult jobs others don’t want and encouraged them to “think, don’t copy” others should they encounter organizational failures.
“Failure often manifests itself when people become too comfortable replicating what worked in the past,” he said. “In an era of renewed great power competition, with massive changes driven by new technology, we simply cannot replicate what worked in the past.”
In a final note, Shanahan also urged the graduates to adhere to the ideals of the navy and Marine Corps and to “soothe our allies and partners” and “frighten the hell out of our foes.”
The graduating class included 756 men and 296 women. Of them, 769 will be commissioned as U.S. Navy ensigns, and 265 will be commissioned as second lieutenants in the Marine Corps.