General Frank J. Grass, a former member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, provided a virtual commencement address to Missouri Military Academy’s graduating class of 2020 at 3 p.m. on Monday, May 11. The event was held via Zoom private broadcast for the 49 graduating cadets whose commencement ceremony was held Friday morning, May 15.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Missouri Military Academy maintained a contained campus through the second half of the Spring 2020 semester in order to maintain safety and security while continuing cadets' education at the private military boarding school in Mexico, Missouri.
MMA President Brigadier General Richard V. Geraci, USA (Ret)., introduced General Grass to the senior cadets assembled in Koster Media Center on campus, plus four cadets who joined virtually from their homes where they have completed their studies via distance learning this semester.
Retired since 2016, General Grass made the Army National Guard his career for nearly 47 years. He rose through the ranks to become the 27th Chief, National Guard Bureau and served as a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from September 2012 to August 2016. As chief of the National Guard, General Grass was responsible for more than 450,000 Army and Air National Guard personnel, ensuring that they were accessible, capable and ready to protect America’s homeland and provide combat forces to the U.S. Army and Air Force. During his four years on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he served as a military adviser to the president, secretary of defense and National Security Council and was the Department of Defense’s official channel of communication to governors and state adjutants general on all National Guard matters.
In his commencement address, General Grass praised the graduating class for MMA’s 131st Corps of Cadets’ accomplishments this year, most notably the achievement of completing their year safely while continuing their studies at the Academy.
“No (other students) in Missouri have done what you have done,” General Grass said about the corps’ maintenance of a contained campus. “You’ve focused and continued through with your education.”
He also noted the world community represented by the global diversity of the senior class. In addition to the United States, MMA’s Class of 2020 hails from 11 different countries, including Brazil, China, Egypt, Norway, Mexico, Rwanda, Uganda, and Mongolia.
General Grass gave the class an “A” for their fulfillment of MMA’s mission — developing to their full potential — grading them according to four core areas: academic excellence, extracurricular activities, and character and leadership development. He congratulated the small class on earning nearly $7.8 million in college scholarships and being accepted to colleges and universities around the world.
Noting the corps’ work this semester in supporting the local food bank’s Buddy Pack program, their dedication to drill and the Academy’s leadership lab, fitness training, Army JROTC Raiders, color guard, and their role in MMA’s Maroon & Gold fundraiser (which shifted unexpectedly to a virtual showcase because of COVID-19), he told the graduates he knows it hasn’t been easy.
“This is just the start for you,” General Grass said about their graduation from MMA. He then shared five things for the Class of 2020 to remember about leadership and personal drive.
- You will decide your future. “To this point, you’ve been guided to be successful … When you leave MMA, entering the young adult world, the next step is all yours. You have to decide what’s important to you,” General Grass said. “Don’t change who you are. Who you are got you to this point.”
- Build trust and relationships. “Leaders need different relationships — someone they can call,” General Grass said, noting that the MMA graduates have strong bonds with each other, having grown up together. “You build trust by working side-by-side, together as a team. You are going to need a favor from people who understand you.” He also encouraged the graduates to seek diversity of thought and culture. “Listening to someone whose opinions are different than your own might make you reflect and ask, ‘Am I correct?’ It might make your own opinion more powerful.”
- Lead by example and with humility. “No doubt you will be leaders in your fields,” General Grass told MMA’s Class of 2020. “You have to get out and engage with the men and women you lead … Talk to your team, look in their eyes, and you’ll get a better sense of what is happening and how the mission is going.”
- Never quit. “Failure is human nature. You are going to fail at some point, so you need to take calculated risks,” he said, then shared a story of what a commander once told him — “Failure is not an option. I understand that failure happens, but you always have to have a backup plan, other options. There’s always one more thing you can do, so never quit.”
- Have balance in life. “You are 49 high performers, MMA’s Class of 2020. Top performers tend to lose balance,” General Grass cautioned. He encouraged the cadets to always maintain balance between work, recreation, sleep, spending time with friends and family, and their “inner person,” or spiritual side.
Following the address, cadets had an opportunity for questions and answers with General Grass and received insight on how he maintained relationships as he advanced as an officer in his career, the current state of morale for the National Guard, and his most challenging/rewarding assignment as an officer.
More About General Grass
Prior to his service as National Guard Chief, General Grass served as deputy commander, United States Northern Command and vice commander of United States Element, North American Aerospace Defense Command (USELEMNORAD) at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, where he helped lead the command to anticipate, prepare and respond to threats and aggression aimed at the United States, its territories and interests. He also provided defense support to civil authorities, including consequence management operations. He has served in a variety of command and staff positions as a traditional National Guard soldier, in the active Guard, the Reserve program, and on active duty. His first general officer assignment was as deputy director of the Army National Guard in Arlington, Virginia.
A native of Arnold, Missouri, General Grass enlisted in the Missouri Army National Guard in 1969. He attended the Missouri Army National Guard Military Academy Officer Candidate School and was commissioned in the Engineer Corps in 1981. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Metropolitan State University in Minneapolis-St Paul, Minnesota, a Master of Science degree from Missouri State University and a Master of Science degree from the National Defense University.