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Space Force commander tells graduates to ‘stay humble and kind’

Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond delivers UND commencement address

Photo by Mike Hess.

The University of North Dakota Class of 2022 is “graduating into a dynamic and changing world, the most complex global strategic environment in most of our lifetimes,” said Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond, chief of space operations for the U.S. Space Force, who delivered the commencement address during the University’s Undergraduate Commencement Ceremony on Saturday, May 14.

“Being here today brings a bit of nostalgia because this is where my Air Force career began,” he said, noting that he met his wife Mollie at UND where she received undergraduate and graduate degrees while he was stationed at the Grand Forks Air Force Base.

During the commencement ceremony for graduate students, UND President Andrew Armacost presented Mollie Raymond with the President’s Medal, the highest honor he can confer. Armacost praised her distinguished service at the national level where she’s advocated for military families and military spouses to make sure they have the resources they need to be successful as military families.

Raymond recalled that he had no idea where his career would take him and how nobody who knew him during the early days of his 35-year Air Force career would have guessed he would command the U.S. Space Force, the U.S. military’s newest service, a position he’s held for two and a half years.

“They would tell you there’s absolutely no way,” Raymond said. “But if I can do it, so can you.”

Raymond said Grand Forks and the University of North Dakota would always hold a special place in his heart.

“First off, UND is world-leading in the fields of engineering, medicine, aviation, unmanned aircraft systems and – most importantly to me – space,” he explained. “It is no coincidence that the Space Force’s very first agreement with an education institution was the University of North Dakota.”

Raymond pointed out that while the occasion was about celebrating the earning of a degree, the word “commencement” means “a beginning,” not the end. It’s also about reflecting on the opportunities ahead of the new graduates.

“Tomorrow, you will start a new chapter where it’s not just about getting a good grade anymore – a chapter where your family, your employer, your community and your nation are depending on you to use what you have learned to make a difference,” he said. “Know that you are good enough to do great things if you are bold enough to invent your future.”

In the space-based military service with perhaps the greatest demand for the rapid development of innovative technology, Raymond told graduates “your skillset will already be getting stale.”

“Like me, you will continue to have to learn, reinvent yourself,” he commented. “Never stop being curious. Never stop learning.”

To the question of how to avoid losing their way in a rapidly changing world, Raymond offered graduates this advice: “The answer is to think carefully about your values, wherever you found them. Your values are your North Star, and they will help guide you when you’re faced with opportunities, challenges and failure.”

Raymond also urged UND’s newest class of graduates to consider the four core values of the Space Force: courage, commitment, connection and character.

“For me recently, courage has meant being bold,” he related. “Standing up the first new military service in more than 70 years doesn’t mean doing things the same way we’ve always done them. We’ve had to take risks and be creative. And as I’ve told my team, being bold takes courage.”

Raymond quoted a line from one of his favorite country western songs by Tim McGraw: “I know you have mountains to climb, but always stay humble and kind.”

He concluded his address by saying: “If you take nothing else from this address, I’d ask you to be a good person. Treat everyone with dignity and respect. Now go climb that mountain and make a difference.”

Raymond’s commencement address is available for viewing on YouTube.

Photo by Mike Hess.

About Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond

Gen. Raymond, the chief of space operations for the U.S. Space Force, is responsible for organizing, training and equipping Guardians serving in the U.S. and overseas. As a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the general and other service chiefs function as military advisors to the Secretary of Defense, National Security Council and the president.

“Being here today brings a bit of nostalgia because this is where my Air Force career began,” said the commander of the U.S. military’s newest service.

Commissioned through the ROTC program at Clemson University in 1984, Gen. Raymond has commanded at squadron, group, wing, numbered Air Force, major command and combatant command levels. His first assignment placed him at Grand Forks Air Force Base from 1985 to 1989, where he met his future wife, Mollie, then a UND student.

Notable staff assignments include serving in the Office of Force Transformation, Office of the Secretary of Defense; the director of Plans, Programs and Analyses at Air Force Space Command; the director of Plans and Policy (J5), U.S. Strategic Command; and the deputy chief of staff for Operations, Headquarters U.S. Air Force.

In 2021, Gen. Raymond and UND President Andy Armacost signed a historic agreement between the Space Force and UND – an agreement making UND the first member of the Space Force’s University Partnership Program.