FAYETVILLE, North Carolina –
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III stressed the importance of service to community and country during his commencement speech today at Fayetteville State University, a historically Black university in Fayetteville, North Carolina.
"Service deepens our democracy. Service brings us closer to the full promise of America's founding. Service builds on itself. Long after you graduate, I hope that you will carry forward the FSU legacy of service," he said.
Serving in uniform is a great way to do that, but so is volunteering in the local community, he said. "It is doing your part to make real our country's highest ideals of liberty and justice for all."
"Service means standing firm on the American principle that all people are created equal. Service means demanding equality of opportunity for all of our children. And service means setting an example," he said.
Austin mentioned that one of his uncles served in the Vietnam War as a Green Beret.
"I still remember him coming home, wearing that green beret and those jump boots. And I saw him, and I thought to myself, ‘You know, I've got to do that. I've just got to have some of that.' And so, his service led to my service," he said.
"Now, I know that the road forward may seem steep. And I know that many of you see the distance between where America is and what America should be and what America can be. But to make America's promise real, our democracy needs you; each and every one of you," he said.
"With all that this university has given you, we need you to give something back — in whatever way you choose. We need you to become doctors and nurses who'll heal the sick. We need you to become lawyers who'll fight for change. We need you to become entrepreneurs who'll make our economy work for all Americans. We need you to become teachers who'll pass on the mighty gift of education. And yes — we need some of you to stand up, and to salute, and to defend the United States by joining the greatest fighting force in history," Austin said.
Service means standing firm on the American principle that all people are created equal. Service means demanding equality of opportunity for all of our children. And service means setting an example."
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III
The secretary provided some examples of people who served and were inspirations to others.
Andrew Johnson, who attended FSU in the early 1940s had a dream to fly airplanes. At the time, that was nearly unheard-of for African Americans like him, Austin said.
But he insisted and persisted. And eventually, he joined the elite group known as the Tuskegee Airmen. During World War II, they fought for America from the skies even while being forced into segregated, sub-standard quarters, dining halls and bathrooms back on the ground, he said.
They were often treated as second-class citizens. But there was nothing second-class about their service. The Tuskegee Airmen flew more than 15,000 successful missions in World War II. "Like so many Black Americans throughout American history, they defended our country with courage, and discipline and honor," he said.
In 1948, President Harry S. Truman ordered equal treatment and opportunity in the U.S. military. "Now, that didn't break down every barrier. But it did open new horizons for America and for Black Americans," Austin said.
Charlene, Austin's wife, accompanied him on the visit to FSU. She was in the class of 1982, and they first met each other in Fayetteville.