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John Raymond's UND commencement speech: 'You are graduating into a dynamic, changing world'

Space Force general said Grand Forks and UND will always hold a special place in his heart.

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Gen. John W. "Jay" Raymond, chief of space operations, U.S. Space Force, gives the commencement address Saturday, May 14, 2022, at the Alerus Center.
Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
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EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is the transcript of the commencement speech given to UND graduates by Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond, chief of space operations for the U.S. Space Force. 

President Armacost, faculty, family, friends and most importantly the graduates here today, I am extremely thankful for the opportunity to join you on such a wonderful day.

President Armacost, thank you for that kind introduction and thank you for your leadership of this great University and for your long and distinguished career in service to our nation.

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Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond is set to give the main address at UND’s spring commencement ceremonies on Saturday, May 14.<br/>
Contributed / UND

You probably all know this, but Andrew Armacost is not just UND’s president, he’s also a retired Air Force general officer with a distinguished career, and just an incredibly talented, accomplished, and brilliant man. He culminated his career as the dean of the Air Force Academy and I will tell you he was universally loved and respected among the cadets, faculty, and all who served with him. And I will tell you the Air Force’s loss is UND’s gain.

Being here today brings on a bit of nostalgia as this is where my Air Force career began. This August will mark 38 years since 2nd Lt. Jay Raymond arrived at Grand Forks Air Force Base as a missile launch officer in the 321 st Strategic Missile Wing.

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But even more importantly, Grand Forks and UND will always hold a special place in my heart. First off, UND is world-leading in the fields of medicine, engineering, aviation, unmanned aircraft systems, and, most importantly to me, space! It is no coincidence that the Space Force’s very first agreement with an educational institution was UND.

That’s all true, but it is even more important to me because this is where I met Mollie, the love of my life, and a 1987 UND undergraduate and a 1989 graduate.

Now, is it just me or is there a buzz here today? Allow me to join your families, friends, and faculty in taking a moment to applaud each and every one of you on this special day. Congratulations on an incredible achievement!

Today, you can sit back, enjoy the day, think to yourself “I made it.” I encourage you all to do so. But also realize we are celebrating a new beginning. That’s the reason they call this a commencement address. Commencement means beginning, not the end. And although we are celebrating your graduation, we are also reflecting on the opportunities that lie ahead for each of you.

Tomorrow you will start a new chapter where it’s not just about getting a good grade anymore – a chapter where your family, your employer, your community, and your nation are depending on you to use what you learned to make a difference.

You are graduating into a dynamic and changing world – the most complex global strategic environment in most of our lifetimes. That will bring challenges for you, but it will also bring opportunities. Know that you are good enough to do great things … if you are bold enough to invent your future.

When I arrived in Grand Forks nearly four decades ago, I had no idea where my career would take me. I thought I’d spend four years in the Air Force and then get out. Instead, I spent 35 years in the Air Force, and now two and a half in the Space Force, as the chief of space operations for our newest branch of the military service. If you had asked me (or anybody that knew me) if I would ever be in a position like this, I – and they – would have told you there was no way. But if I can do it, so can you.

Just as today, there are many jobs that didn’t exist when I graduated, including my current job, many of you will work in jobs or have careers that don’t exist today. I didn’t even see a personal computer until I was a senior in college. We used punch cards on a big main-frame computer, and a cyber-attack back then was when your roommate mixed up your cards. Today, I lead the most high-tech military service in our country.

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A service whose mission is to ensure that every American, and our Joint Forces, have the space capabilities that fuel our way of life and protect our security interests. Many of you may not recognize that you use space multiple times before you have your first cup of coffee. You used it:

● When you accessed a map application on your phone to drive here today…our GPS satellite constellation provides that little blue dot. Your smart phone is really a stupid phone without space.

● When you listen to satellite radio, you can thank space When you get the weather forecast, that came from space.

● When you get cash out of the ATM Or use internet banking.

● That’s because of the timing system from the GPS satellites that synchronizes our lives.

Technology is moving so fast, and the US commercial industry is so innovative, that next week, your skillset will already be getting stale. Like me, you will have to continue to learn and reinvent yourself. Never stop being curious. Never stop learning.

So how do we handle a world that is changing so rapidly around us? It could be easy to lose your way.

The answer is to think carefully about your values, wherever you’ve found them.

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Your values are your North Star and they will help guide you when you are faced with opportunities, challenges and failure.

Everyone will find their own, but I’ll give you one example: in the Space Force, we have four Core Values – courage, commitment, connection, and character.

I want to tell you about them today because I believe that they are good values – not just for Guardians, but for everyone who wants to live a good life, a life of purpose and a life of meaning.

The first is courage.

There are many different types of courage. The physical courage it takes to put yourself in harm’s way in order to keep others safe. But, when I say courage, I mean more than that.

● Courage is taking action and accepting risk when necessary.

● Being open to change and engaging with new ideas.

● Doing what needs to be done and saying what needs to be said because it is right.

● And that kind of courage is what’s needed in all of us, whatever our careers, whatever our paths in life.

For me recently, courage has meant being bold. Standing up the first new military service in more than 70 years doesn’t mean doing things the same way we’ve always done them. We’ve had to take risks and be creative, and as I’ve told my team, being bold takes courage.

Think about what courage means to you. It might mean bringing new ideas, or a new perspective. It might mean bringing a new technology to your business. Don’t hold back! Dream big, and deliver.

The second of our Space Force values is commitment. 

All of you already know something about commitment. It took commitment to apply to and get accepted into UND. It took commitment to make it through tough classes.

It took commitment to work on this degree for four years, or maybe even longer, and I’m sure each and every one of you were challenged in one way or another along the way.

You stuck with it, or you wouldn’t be here right now.

And it’s going to take even more commitment as you go forward from here.

You’ll need to set high standards – don’t settle for mediocrity. For those entering into the military – please stand. For those who just got commissioned, please stand. Thank you for your service. I’ll bet that when you raised your right hand, you didn’t want to join a so-so military, you wanted to be a part of the world’s best.

That holds true for each of you no matter what profession you pursue. Strive to be the best… set very high standards and hold yourself and those that you are privileged to lead accountable to meet those standards.

Our third value is connection. 

● We have all, over the past two and a half years of quarantines, masks, remote classes, and social distancing, been reminded of how vital connection can be. But many of you might be surprised that connection is one of the core values of a military service.

However, it makes a lot of sense when you think about space. Space is a vital global interest. There are no borders where “that side is yours and this side is mine” – it is a global domain we all share. It has to be a team effort.

And winning teammates have a special connection. They treat each other with respect. They tap into the best each other have to offer. They are stronger together than they are individually. They work together, not just to profit from a transaction, but because they agree on a common purpose.

Our final Space Force value is character.

Character defines who you really are. The actions we take—both the small ones on a daily basis and the big ones in a moment of crisis—are a reflection of your character.

You are going to be put in positions where it will be easier to give your integrity away and make the wrong decision than it will be to make the tougher right decision. Always make the right decision. You will be defined by your character…nobody can take that from you, you can only give it away. I would encourage you not to do so.

It’s a lot harder to actually do the right thing especially when no one is looking, when no one applauds, when the only reward you get is the certainty, within yourself, that you did the right thing.

Finally, if you take nothing else from this address, I’d ask you to be a good person. Treat everyone with dignity and respect.

This will sound familiar to anyone who was here this morning for the graduate commencement ceremony, but I’m a big country music fan.

I can’t put it any better than Tim McGraw in his song Humble and Kind:

  • Hold the door, say please, say thank you
  • Don’t steal, don’t cheat, don’t lie
  • I know you have mountains to climb,
  • But always stay humble and kind!

Thanks so much for having me here and letting me share a few thoughts with you. My sincere congratulations to each and every one of you. Mollie and I wish you all the best in the future. Now go climb that mountain and make a difference! Thank you.

Related Topics: UNIVERSITY OF NORTH DAKOTA
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