Hundreds of Florida Memorial University graduates and their families listened intently Saturday morning as U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson gave life lessons and shared his own family’s stories during his commencement speech.
Addressing the crowd gathered near the entrance of the school in Miami Gardens, Johnson joked that his speech would not be about homeland security or new policy. Instead, he focused on urging students to make the most of failure and missteps.
“Neither I nor anyone else can teach you to avoid mistakes; you will make them,” Johnson said. “Bad choices, bad investments, bad relationships, bad haircuts. You have to make your own mistakes, but hopefully you will learn from them.”
Johnson, who succeeded former secretary Janet Napolitano in 2013, gave students 10 life lessons that included classic adages like “Do the right thing” and “Treat others as you’d want to be treated.”
He also discussed his own experience at another historically black college, Morehouse College in Atlanta. He credited the school with taking him from a “C” and “D” student to a 4.0 grade-point average as a senior and eventual acceptance to Columbia University’s law school.
“I came to Morehouse College as a boy, and I left Morehouse College as a man on fire,” Johnson said.
During his speech, he also gave a shout out to graduate Gabriella Deza, an aeronautical science major who will serve in the U.S. Coast Guard, as he encouraged students to consider a career in public service.
“The opportunity to serve others and make a difference is self-satisfying and simply makes you a happier person,” Johnson said.
He also encouraged students to seek out mentors and to give back to the college when they can.
“Today you leave FMU, but do not leave it behind,” Johnson said. “Up until this day, this school has given you much. Today is the day you start to give back to this school.”