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Robert Gates brings politics, Washington to Oxford

By Morgan Nguyen, For The Miami Student

As many professors would attest, it takes considerable effort to quiet a room of buzzing students. At the Robert Gates lecture Wednesday, it took all of one second; the time for President Hodge to rise from his seat on stage to introduce the lecture series. The crowd gathered to hear Gates speak about his time as Secretary of Defense in his speech entitled "Duty."

"I thought he was very well-spoken," said junior Claudia Lamparter. "I appreciated his candor and non-partisan [approach]."

Gates began his speech with jokes and remarks on the strength of America as a leader, then continued into a discussion of his time serving President Bush and President Obama as a secretary at war.

While he was the Secretary of Defense, Gates described feeling as though he was at war with a Congress and elements of the president's staff. He spoke about his relationship with both presidents, touching on their demeanors in office and conversations and how their goals affected their approaches.

"The main point that I took away from Dr. Gates' speech is that he worked well under both presidents even though they were in different parties," said Lamparter. "The fact that both men respected him shows how professional [Gates] was."

Gates' personality in person is one that impressed many students.

"He was a very soft-spoken, well-mannered man," said sophomore Cameron Snyder. "He wasn't what I was expecting at first, having been a secretary of defense. He has a charismatic way of speaking, doesn't yell or shout. He spoke softly and everyone immediately quieted down to listen. I greatly enjoyed that about him."

Snyder described Gates as one of the university's "most favorable speakers" and enjoyed his approach to the speech.

"He was providing his record rather than throwing things in your face," Snyder said. "That allowed the environment to become what the listeners wanted it to be."

Snyder added that the environment was one more laid back than lectures of the past, with Gates opening his lecture by cracking a few jokes about narcissism in politics.

Students wish Gates had spoken more in-depth on current affairs and policy, the militarized climate around the world and his own background, but overall enjoyed hearing about his time in office.

Gates closed his speech by talking about two issues he holds in high esteem: the welfare of our armed forces and participation in public service. He explained that what kept him up at night when he had the power to deploy troops with a signature was the necessity of putting those men and women in harm's way. He also challenged all students to get involved with public service, no matter the scale, noting the sense of fulfillment that accompanies it.

"I definitely agree that one can't have a full life without public service," Lamparter said. "Public service, whether it be as an employee or in general, is very fulfilling. It gives you a sense of pride and accomplishment, and helps the community at large."

Gates met with a few business students after the lecture, where Snyder was able to shake his hand and ask a question of his own. The answer was the greatest take-away point of the night, he said.

"I was able to ask him what advice he'd give to someone who wishes to succeed in his respective field, and he said to pick a mentor," Snyder said. "'Try to replicate and build yourself in a way that you can emulate that person. You can use him or her as a goal of where you'd like to be.'"

Excerpt from Interview with Robert Gates

TMS: Your lecture was about duty. Do you have any advice to offer to college students regarding how to recognize and follow their line of duty in society?

RG: I think it's figuring out what your passion is, and if you can find a career or series of jobs that allow you to fulfill your passion, that's more important than looking for a specific kind of job. My basic philosophy is that you cannot have a full life if it doesn't include some measure of public service; it doesn't need to be a career. You can be a business executive and still be involved in your community.

TMS: What were the pivotal moments or decisions in your career that either reaffirmed your passion, fueled your work ethic and/or kept you motivated to succeed?

RG: I never thought of what I was doing as a career. I wasn't a very sympathetic. I was working probably 50 hours a week at the CIA, then taking 12 graduate hours at Georgetown simultaneously, and the whole purpose was that I had no intention of making a career out of the CIA. I still wanted to teach. I saw CIA as an interesting interlude. Then literally within two weeks of getting my Ph.D., I was asked by Henry Kissinger to come to National Security Council at the White House. People just kept offering me interesting jobs and 27 years later, I retired as director.