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News | March 29, 2024

17th President of National Defense University Honors NPS Winter Quarter Graduates

By Andrew Langholf Naval Postgraduate School

The Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) recognized the achievement of its 2024 Winter Quarter graduates during the school’s latest commencement ceremony in King Hall Auditorium, Mar. 29.

U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Michael T. Plehn, 17th President of the National Defense University, served as the keynote speaker for 206 graduates, including 19 international students from 12 countries. Plehn shared anecdotes and advice for the new graduates, and current Naval and defense leaders, emphasizing the power of narrative and consistency in one's career.

"The main theme of my talk is about the power of perseverance and success," said Plehn. "When you get to lead an organization, you can say something new every time or you can build a story you continue to refine that over time."

Plehn chose to refine his story, he said, offering a perspective he has evolved over his long distinguished career leading to his five key principals to success – performance, initiative, attitude, education and perseverance.

Plehn expanded on each, emphasizing the importance of taking ownership of your work, honoring your reputation, and persevering to success.  He expressed how important perseverance is in achieving positive results, although a leader understands when to press forward in another direction, he noted.

"Sometimes you have to accept it because there are some failures out there that are final,” Plehn added. “And, the sooner you come to that realization, you can get off onto a new path.”

Plehn also commented on the complementary roles of NDU and NPS, and how the mission of NPS is vital to ensuring the technological leadership of our Navy and joint force. 

“This prestigious school develops warrior talent and research solutions via master’s and PhD programs for the Department of the Navy, DOD, U.S. Government, partners and our allies,” said Plehn. “At the National Defense University, we refer to that as Intellectual Overmatch; and that’s exactly what you’ll bring to the fight.”

Speaking on the convergence of academic rigor and military strategy, retired U.S. Navy Vice Adm. Ann E. Rondeau, president of NPS, imparted a compelling message on the immediacy of leadership and self-awareness.

"You are leaders," said Rondeau. "When you hear the term, 'You're a future leader,' don't settle for that. You're a leader today and you were a leader prior to coming in here. And your voice is not the voice of the future, it is the voice of now."

A member of the graduating class, U.S. Navy Lt. Ben Paddock shared his journey earning his master’s in Homeland Security and Defense at NPS, reflecting on its significance in his life and his family's legacy. Paddock represents the second generation of NPS alumni in his family – his father is also an alumnus of NPS, earning a Master’s in Manpower Systems Analysis in 1986.

 "Coming to NPS has been a lifelong ambition, sparked by my father's stories from his time here," he shared. "The experience has expanded my worldview, pushing me academically and allowing me to connect with fellow officers from around the globe. It's been extraordinary, and I'll certainly miss it."

As he prepares to transition from this chapter, Paddock looks forward to the future with anticipation.

“I'm set to join department head school in Newport, Rhode Island, before focusing on Aegis systems in Dahlgren and then taking on the role of chief engineer on the USS Daniel Inouye in Hawaii," he added.

Plehn wrapped up his address by reinforcing the importance of resilience in the face of adversity. Drawing from a reservoir of personal experience and historical references, Plehn encouraged the graduates to adapt to life's unpredictable nature and to always pursue excellence.

As the graduates prepared to embark on their next steps, Plehn offered a final reminder.

"Justice, tempered with mercy is a wonderful characteristic in all of our leaders. Invest in the people who show promise,” he said. 

“They're not going to get it right every single time. You are not going to get it right every single time,” Plehn continued. “There will be failures in front of you, and you get to make a choice about what you do about those failures. Dream big. Work hard. And don't quit."

For more information about this latest class and to watch the full ceremony, visit the NPS Graduation website at