Retired Navy Adm. Michael Mullen highlighted the need for an increased focus on budgets, resources, and national readiness within the U.S. national defense system at SMU Tower Center’s annual National Security Symposium April 11.
Although Adm. Mullen asked that his remarks be kept off the record, event organizer M. Diana Newton, a senior fellow and professor in the John G. Tower Center for Political Studies, said following the event she was impressed by his, “frank state of the Union,” labeling it both “thoughtful and thought-provoking.”
“As an apolitical admiral, his unvarnished truths about where our country finds itself went beyond interesting to motivating,” Newton said.
Newton highlighted that this year’s event was focused on providing SMU students with the correct tools and empowerment needed for them to interact meaningfully and with a purpose in their communities.
“We promote programs like this so that our bright, capable SMU students and community members can learn and then do, as agents of change in the world,” Newton said.
Many avid young policy writers found Adm. Mullen’s candid assessment of current topics, which ranged from domestic education to Russia, racism and political gridlock, to be pensive and proactive.
“I was impressed by Adm. Mullen’s candor and thoughtfulness about the most pressing geopolitical issues facing the U.S. military,” SMU senior, Ryan Cross said. “In particular, I was intrigued by his deep knowledge on the relationship between the White House and the Pentagon.”
The ability to foster strong relationships between groups was a theme reiterated throughout the evening. Specifically, Adm. Mullen’s address championed the importance of empowering the next generation via intergenerational ties within the leadership community.
“I think the main thing I took away was a reminder in how much our leaders believe in people like me,” Hunter Kolon, a human rights major, said. “I felt very empowered by his faith in how my generation has risen to the occasion, as we saw with the aftermath of the Parkland tragedy, and how we will continue to do so with the right direction.”
Kolon and Cross are both Highland Capital Management (HCM) Tower Scholars completing a selective minor in Public Policy and International Affairs. The program, established in honor of the late John Tower, former Republican US senator for Texas, offers many opportunities for students to interact in the professional political sphere.
“I think opportunities to hear movers and shakers like Admiral Mullen speak on our campus are truly once in a lifetime,” Kolon said. “More students should really take advantage of these.”
Cross reflected on the unique events available to the Tower Scholars and wider SMU community.
“The visit demonstrates the Tower Center’s special ability to bring fascinating public figures to campus,” Cross said.
The conversation included many weighty topics, but there was also the overarching theme of the American will to work for something better, and a belief in the tenacity of young leaders to tackle the rising challenges of the present decade that bode with all those in attendance.
“I came away optimistic about the future, and the future generations of Americans assuming leadership in the world sphere,” Nathaniel Means, a history professor at Dallas County Community College said.
The next Tower Center event is “Year of the Woman 2.0” on April 23, while the National Defense Symposium is an annual event hosted by the center every spring in conjunction with various donors.