In a markedly unemotional speech, the former commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard urged students to consider public service as a calling Friday in the Jack Morton Auditorium.
Adm. Thad Allen – who led the Gulf cleanup efforts following the BP oil spill this summer – stressed the need to learn from past crises, and adapt to situations as they unfold.
“We need to understand you need to be adaptable, you need to be flexible, and you need to engage in lifelong learning and keep yourself as open to new ideas as you can,” Allen said. “And be able to adapt and learn during a situation.”
Allen – who received his Master of Public Administration from GW in 1986 – added that when reacting to an unprecedented event, a leader needs to understand the mission and what he or she is trying to achieve.
“If there is a way you can do it through cooperation, and create unity of effort in the federal government, you need to do that moving forward,” Allen said.
Allen challenged GW students to think about their role when there is a crisis.
At the event, University President Steven Knapp presented Allen with the Colin Powell Public Service Award. The award is given to a GW student, alumnus, faculty member or member of the GW community that has made an “outstanding contribution to public service that honors the University,” according to a University release. The award is named after GW alumnus and retired Gen. Colin Powell.
Knapp honored Allen by saying that he has “distinguished himself as a leader in some of the most challenging crises our country has faced in certainly my lifetime.”
“He just seemed like a natural choice,” Knapp said. “Not just for the skill, but the dedication and contributions to the community he has made.”
Allen, who received the Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award from the University in 2006, said it was a “distinct honor” to be given the public service award.
“It’s been particularly rewarding that I would receive an award in [Colin Powell’s] name from the place that we both graduated from,” Allen said, adding that Powell is a friend and mentor. “It’s just terrific.”
Allen said GW taught him to be “bureaucratically bilingual.”
Knapp said it is part of the University’s mission “to teach people these type of abilities and skills to people who can really make a difference to our country when it’s really needed.”
Allen will teach a class at the Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration during the spring semester, the University announced earlier this month.
In an interview with The Hatchet, Allen offered some advice to GW students, telling them “to get involved in the community and understand that public service is a higher calling.”
“We need our best and brightest,” Allen said.