Joint Chiefs chairman to give Duke commencement speech

Duke Office of News & CommunicationsJanuary 22, 2014 

  • The general’s medals

    Gen. Martin Dempsey’s awards and decorations include the Defense Distinguished Service Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster, the Distinguished Service Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters, the Defense Superior Service Medal, the Legion of Merit with two Oak Leaf Clusters, the Bronze Star with “V” Device and Oak Leaf Cluster, the Combat Action Badge, and the Parachutist Badge.

— Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a Duke University alumnus, will deliver the commencement address at Duke on Sunday, May 11.

Commencement exercises will begin at 10 a.m. at Wallace Wade Stadium and are open to the public.

“As the bearer of responsibility for our national security, Gen. Martin Dempsey has faced the challenges of the contemporary world in all their complexity,” said Duke President Richard H. Brodhead. “A proud Duke alumnus with a master’s degree in English, Gen. Dempsey is a brilliant example of the way broad-based education prepares students for the ever-changing world. He’ll make a compelling speaker for this May’s commencement.”

Dempsey is the nation’s highest ranking military officer and the principal military adviser to President Obama, the secretary of defense and the National Security Council. Prior to becoming the 18th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he served as the Army’s 37th Chief of Staff.

Dempsey graduated from West Point in 1974 and earned a master’s degree in English from Duke in 1984. Following his studies at Duke, the general returned to West Point and was assigned to the academy’s English Department. He also has master’s degrees in military art from the United States Army Command and General Staff College and in national security studies from the National War College.

“I call myself the military’s highest-ranking student when people ask me my duty description. Since I’ve become chairman -- even way before that -- I’ve been on what I call a personal campaign of learning,” Dempsey said. “I try to reach out to industry, to academia, to nonprofits, to anybody I can, to hear their perspectives so that our armed forces can benefit from their insights.”

During a previous visit to campus, Dempsey credited his broad view of the world in part to the humanities degree he received from Duke, where he studied Irish literature and poetry.

“My time at Duke was an intellectual oasis after a long march,” Dempsey said. “It allowed me time to broaden my perspective from the confines of military life and open it to another world, full of new ideas, viewpoints, issues and stories which helped me develop.”

Several Duke seniors reacted positively to the news that Dempsey would be the commencement speaker at their graduation ceremony.

“I think it’s an amazing choice and the timing is perfect given the importance of national security. It shows that Duke is focused on not just what’s going on in Durham and the Triangle, but what’s going on across the world,” said Marcus Benning, president of the Black Student Alliance.

Added Jacob Robinson, a public policy major, “I think it’s an exciting choice because he’s had to deal with things he didn’t necessarily learn about, that he didn’t prepare for directly. It’s representative of our class because many of us may have careers we didn’t necessarily prepare for. It shows what you can do with a Duke degree.”

Daniel Strunk, a political science and economics major, said he has heard Dempsey speak before “and he’s a great speaker, articulate, eloquent and has a good message.”

During his nearly 40 years in the U.S. Army, Dempsey has served during times of war and peace at every level, from platoon leader to combatant commander. He’s held commands in both Iraq and Afghanistan as well as other posts in the Middle East and Europe.

“We ask our young service men and women to solve some of the world’s most challenging, complex problems, and in its hardest places,” said Dempsey, who is married with three children, each of whom has served in the U.S. Army. “The more our service members, as well as those graduating in May, understand the history, the more they understand the culture, the more that they understand the power dynamics in play, the better and the more enduring the results that they will achieve.”

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