Gen. Robert Neller, commandant of the United State Marine Corps, will be the commencement speaker for the Class of 2019’s graduation in May, the Provost’s Office announced on Monday.
“It’s pretty clear Gen. Neller, while innocent of any kind of self promotion or self regard, is clearly a man of great accomplishment, of serious understanding, and of enormous — almost immeasurable — service to the country,” said Provost David Whalen. “A lot of people are very ready to takes things easy as they approach their senior years. Being commandant of the Marine Corps has to be the definition of the opposite of taking things easy.”
Senior class president Ryan Kelly Murphy said Neller, whose son Brett graduated from Hillsdale in 2006, had the characteristics and values the senior class officers were looking for in a commencement speaker.
“Gen. Neller has had a long and admirable career, and his contributions in the defense of our country have been tremendous,” said Hillsdale College President Larry Arnn in a statement to the Collegian. “He is known for his courage in combat and his prudence in the highest levels of command — a man worthy of great honor.
Murphy and the other senior class officers were part of the decision process with the President’s and Provost’s offices for this year’s speaker, and they [helped] choose Neller for his admirable qualities of service and the fact that he has experience with Hillsdale College through his son who went here, according to Murphy. Students, regardless of whether they plan to join the armed forces, will benefit from Neller’s perspectives on life, she said.
“He has dedicated his life to ultimate service. To have that example for the seniors as we’re preparing to go out into the world will be a remarkable reminder about how we are called to dedicate our lives to service,” Murphy said. “It will be a meaningful capstone lesson to our experience at Hillsdale.”
Michael Murray, legal counsel and administrative director of gift and estate at Hillsdale College, served under Neller when they were both deployed in Iraq in 2006 and later introduced the general to President Larry Arnn in 2016. Neller is the perfect choice for commencement speaker, Murray said in an email.
“The Marine Corps and Hillsdale College are both mission-focused organizations that appreciate and honor our nation’s founding principles,” he said. “To hear from the leader of the Marine Corps seems very fitting.”
Seniors Joshua Bailey and Dan McAlary are both planning to serve in the Marine Corps after graduation and said they are thrilled to have the opportunity to hear from Neller.
“Some Marines go their whole careers without coming near the commandant of the Marine Corps,” McAlary said. “Somebody’s who’s spent their life in service to their country is an example to give back.”
Bailey said high-ranking officers in the armed forces are often well-educated and worthy of looking to as a model.
“Men who end up in positions that high up have come up with a life in leadership philosophy that’s worth knowing,” Bailey said. “Being that committed for so many years to his profession and doing it well — that kind of character is something you want a little bit of, whether you’re headed into the Marine Corps or some other position. That’s the kind of person you want to take cues from.”
The fact that Neller’s son went to Hillsdale means he already has a knowledge of the college’s values, Murphy said.
“He understands Hillsdale through the experience of his son, and that is one of the many wonderful perspectives Gen. Neller can provide to the graduating seniors,” she said.
Whalen said in choosing the speaker, college administrators and senior class officers have to find someone who can speak to the graduates in particular but also more generally to the college’s wider audience. The speaker, he said, has to address the purposes of a life well-lived.
“You want somebody who understands what a good, proper liberal education is for, why it’s important, and how that translates into a kind of high calling on the part of the graduates,” he said. “You have to have a speaker people hopefully will recognize as accomplished, as someone admirable and someone whose work and place in the world has somehow been a model.”