Two Military Officers and Corporate Leader Share Wisdom with Graduates, Cadets

May 13, 2014

Saint Leo University audiences enjoyed sage and heartfelt advice from two U.S. military officers (active duty and retired) and a Fortune 500 CEO who delivered keynote addresses at University Campus earlier this month. Highlights of their speeches—to two University Campus commencement audiences and to the newly commissioned Saint Leo U.S. Army ROTC officers—are captured here for the enjoyment of the broader Saint Leo military and civilian community. Many of their remarks shared common threads—the importance of education, service, and relationships.

ROTC Cadets Hear from One of Their Own

Colonel Steven Collier, U.S. Army (Ret.), was the guest speaker Thursday, May 1, at the commissioning ceremony for the Saint Leo University’s ROTC program, where seven graduating students were commissioned as second lieutenants into the U.S. Army. Colonel Collier had a distinguished military career with 35 years of leadership experience in the U.S. Army, with the Joint Chiefs, and in the corporate world.

Colonel Collier first advised the class to be attentive listeners, to lead by example, and to take care of their soldiers.

“As members of the ‘profession of arms,’ nothing can substitute for being prepared,” said Colonel Collier. “A true professional prays against his own best success. Rapid promotion and combat medals are fine, but I would encourage all of you to pray for peace,” the colonel concluded.

Master’s Degree Recipients Learn from a Rare Officer

U.S. Army Brigadier General Susan Davidson, a native of the nearby country town of Saint Joseph, FL, knows the value of good relationships and of having at least four close friends on speed dial.

Brigadier General Davidson, the commanding officer of the Defense Logistics Agency Distribution, has commanded at company, battalion, and brigade levels in peace and war. She served in Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm. She was commissioned by her father, a lieutenant in the Florida National Guard.

The featured speaker at the Saturday, May 3, graduate-level commencement at University Campus, she gave the 500-plus graduates just one more assignment: “Take a deep breath and smile—you all earned it,” she said. She encouraged the graduates to be ”doers.”

“Don’t sit around and watch the world go by,” she advised.

And she recalled a practical bit of advice from a time when she was stationed in Hawaii, and was then a single mother of three young children. She was about to be deployed and her childcare arrangements kept falling through. She reached out via social media, and a friend quickly found a solution: his mom, a retired nurse, could help and would be on the next flight. “Creating bonds is very important. Never become complacent with your friends. Keep at least four friends on speed dial at all times,” she said.

In closing, Brigadier General Davidson told members of the Class of 2014 that they have the rules and tools to do great things. “Set a goal for yourself or you’ll never reach it. Be confident and aggressive. Be ready for anything; otherwise life will pass you by.”

Naval Shipbuilder Delivers Fundamentals to Undergraduates

For Mike Petters, serving in the military was a family tradition. All six Petters children served in the armed forces, including his sister, Susan Davidson, who spoke to the morning graduates on May 3. Mr. Petters followed that afternoon to speak at the undergraduate commencement.

Mr. Petters was also commissioned by their father into service, into the U.S. Navy. He earned a bachelor’s degree in physics from the U.S. Naval Academy and served aboard a nuclear-powered submarine. He also earned a Master of Business Administration degree and spent five years in the U.S. Naval Reserve. Mr. Petters is now president & CEO of Huntington Ingalls Industries in Newport News, VA, and oversees America’s largest military shipbuilder.

Mr. Petters shared with the audience his parents’ passion for education. “My mom and dad both believed that education was everything—that you should pursue it with gusto—and that you should never stop learning.”

His dad also drilled into all the children another important lesson: “We are darn lucky to be born in this country and that we should pay it back through service.”

He concluded his speech with a bridge-building analogy as he challenged the Class of 2014: “Build a bridge, choices, dreams, hope—build a big life!”