‘You can always reach for the stars:’ Head of U.S. Space Command addresses engineering graduates

U.S. Army General James Dickinson speaks at engineering commencement

Gen. James H. Dickinson ’85 addresses graduates of the Walter Scott, Jr. College of Engineering. 
Photos by John Eisele

Graduates of the Walter Scott, Jr. College of Engineering heard commencement remarks on May 14 from one of their own: U.S. Army Gen. James H. Dickinson, Commander of U.S. Space Command, who graduated from Colorado State University with a degree in mechanical engineering in 1985.

The decorated alumnus, four-star general and senior air and missile defense officer in the U.S. Department of Defense “sat where you are sitting” 37 years ago, with a newly earned engineering degree, and freshly pinned gold bars as a second lieutenant in the Army. At the time, the Estes Park native surmised he might never return to Fort Collins, since he was embarking on a military career. Returning decades later as commencement speaker for the college he graduated from is a “once in a lifetime” opportunity for which Dickinson expressed deep gratitude. “It’s good to be home,” he said.

In his remarks, Dickinson took the new graduates on a brief tour of history. When he graduated in 1985, the Cold War was raging, the last war the U.S. had fought was in Vietnam, and the United States Space Force was set to launch its newest Defense Satellite Communications System, with a “monster, monster” data-transfer capability of 200 megabytes per second ­– eliciting a few polite laughs from the engineers. Today’s equivalent satellite has over 10 times that capacity, Dickinson said.

Peering even deeper into history, Dickinson likened the graduates’ accomplishments and futures to President John F. Kennedy’s famous 1962 speech about U.S. ambitions to land on the moon. Dickinson contended that the speech contains “ideal concepts” for the graduates to consider on their commencement day.

The graduates, Dickinson said, “set sail on this new sea” to gain knowledge that can be applied for the benefit of future generations. And, like Kennedy’s aspirations for going to the moon, the graduates pursued engineering degrees “not because it was easy, but because it was hard,”

“It was hard, but you made it, and you join a distinguished group of graduates from this remarkable university,” Dickinson said.

Going down a list of notable CSU alumni, from college benefactor Walter Scott, Jr., to Dr. Kjell Lindgren, who now commands a mission to the International Space Station, Dickinson charged the new graduates to live up to these and other examples of home-grown greatness. He exhorted them to incorporate the “culture of excellence” implied in President Kennedy’s challenge to put a person on the moon, and to seize the greatest opportunities for success in the “greatest nation in the world.”

In all this, “never forget where you came from,” he reminded them, as he once learned from a senior non-commissioned officer early in his career.

“As you explore the limitless potential available to you in this great nation and around this great world, remember you can always reach for the stars,” Dickinson said.

During commencement weekend, Dickinson also delivered remarks to graduates of the College of Business, and he presided over the commissioning ceremony for U.S. Air Force and U.S. Army Reserve Officer’s Training Corp graduates.

seated graduates at engineering commencement
graduates throw caps at engineering commencement
graduates pose for picture at engineering commencement