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Shanahan Tells US Naval Academy’s Class of 2019 to Challenge the Status Quo

Acting U.S. Secretary of Defense Patrick M. Shanahan at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. on May 7, 2019. DoD Photo

Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan told the U.S. Naval Academy graduating class of 2019 to challenge the status quo, look for the hard jobs in their careers and not fear failure.

Citing the Samurai culture in feudal Japan, Shanahan said the most feared and dangerous of all the Samurai were those who were cut by an opponent’s sword but lived to fight another day.

“Why? Because they no longer feared the sword. They could – and would – press the fight, knowing the danger but unafraid of it,” Shanahan said.

For the class of 2019, failure is mostly an abstract concept, Shanahan said. They’ve excelled academically and athletically. Just reaching graduation is an accomplishment in beating the numbers.

On June 30, 2015, when the class first arrived in Annapolis, the 1,193 men and women were selected from 16,101 applicants, according to the U.S. Naval Academy. On Friday, four years later, 765 midshipmen commissioned as Navy ensigns and 265 midshipmen commissioned as second lieutenants in the Marine Corps. The class recognized former Secretary of Defense James Mattis as an honorary member of the Class of 2019.

Shanahan said there will be times when these new officers will face an easy path offering a safe way to avoid a difficult job and to avoid risking failure. He wants the class to seek out difficult tasks.

“While we always expect you to strive for excellence, the zero-defect mentality is a handicap we simply cannot afford. It is something you cannot afford. It will not lead you to greatness, but to mediocrity,” Shanahan said.

Then, moments before the graduates were sworn into the service, Shanahan told the class of 2019 they will have countless opportunities across their careers to stand for what is right, even if it’s the hard choice to make. One area they can make their mark immediately is fighting sexual harassment.

“I need you young lieutenants and ensigns to set the standard on preventing sexual harassment and assault in our ranks. The status quo won’t cut it,” Shanahan said.

“Set the climate. Model and teach the right behaviors of respect, good order, and discipline. Call it out. Lead. Motivate. lnspire. Coach up. Transform our Navy and Marine Corps. Make them the institutions they were made to be. Set the example for your subordinates, peers, and leadership. Learn to be comfortably uncomfortable with this responsibility, drawing confidence from the knowledge that, when we are aligned on one goal, we‘re unstoppable,” the acting secretary continued.
“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. We stand against authoritarian regimes that routinely degrade human dignity for their very survival.”

“Remember,” Shanahan concluded, “we are the good guys. So hold fast to those highest ideals of duty, honor, and loyalty and stand your ground.”