By DAVID DUPONT
BG Independent News
For Rear Admiral June Ryan the path that led her to the Coast Guard was illuminated by the light of a television screen.
She saw an advertisement for the Coast Guard at 3 in the morning – “the only time the Coast Guard can afford to advertise.”
It featured the Midgett family from North Carolina’s Outer Banks who had members who served in the Coast Guard since before the Revolution. She decided she wanted to start her own tradition.
As a sophomore at Bowling Green State University, she enlisted in the Coast Guard Reserve as a junior boatswain’s mate. Once a month she would report to the lighthouse at Marblehead, a lighthouse rich with history. It is the oldest continually operating lighthouse on the United States side of the Great Lakes. It had the first female lighthouse keeper and is near the site of one of the first rescues honored by the Gold Lifesaving Medal.
Her career ended up taking her around the world, serving presidents as a military aide, and meeting world leaders, before returning to the Midwest in 2015 as the commander for the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway.
In introducing the 1984 biology graduate at Saturday morning’s BGSU commencement ceremonies, Provost Rodney Rogers noted she was the first woman to rise from the junior enlisted ranks to become a flag officer.
Ryan offered the graduates of the College of Arts and Sciences “four observations that led to my success and could lead to yours.”
“Remember BGSU,” she said.
The “B” stands for beacon, she said.
“Be a beacon for others,” Ryan said. “So concentrate your talent to a single beam of light and then share it with the world.”
That means being a mentor. And for those who wonder what a new college graduate has to offer, she said: “I can tell you there many people who want to be in your shoes and don’t know the path to get to a commencement.”
BGSU graduates can help light their paths.
Ryan said they must also have gratitude. Just as a lighthouse’s beacon is supporting by brick and limestone, their success is built on the work of countless others.
That includes family and friends. It also includes those whose daily work doesn’t get much recognition – those who work in landscaping, the bookstore, the library, residence halls, food service, and the financial aid office.
Then Ryan told them “if you want to live a purpose-filled life, lead a service-filled life.”
Coast Guard crews risk their lives going out into raging storms to save the lives of people they don’t even know.
Ryan recalled a young petty officer, who stood “five foot nothing” and barely weighed 90 pounds. She was called out to rescue two snowmobilers who had gone through the ice. She had to traverse 100 yards of ice, falling through every few steps, and having to pull herself out.
She finally reached one of the men. He weighed more than 300 pounds, and when he looked at her said there was no way she could rescue him.
“Shut the heck up. You’re not dying on my watch,” was her response.
Ryan admitted the petty officer used a stronger expletive. “She’s a sailor after all.”
But service need not be so dramatic, she said.
The graduates can serve in countless small ways, working in a food pantry or singing in a choir.
“Today is all about you,” Ryan said. Each person is unique. There never has, nor will there ever be another you. “You were placed here to change the world in your own special way.”
Ryan’s emphasis on service fit well with the university’s push to have students volunteer in the community. In her opening remarks, President Mary Ellen Mazey asked all those graduates who had done community service to stand. Well over half the graduates took to their feet.
In its four commencement ceremonies this weekend, BGSU will graduate 2,328 including 436 with graduate degrees. The age of graduates ranges from 18 (an associate’s degree) to 68 (master’s degree).
At Saturday morning’s ceremony, an honorary doctorate was awarded to native son, economist and best-selling author William Easterly, whose father, Nathan William Easterly, taught biology at the university and was present at the ceremony.
A 1979 graduate, Easterly told the students: “I think I’m meant to be a role model for you. That if you’re a BGSU graduate like me and you work really, really hard for the next 38 years, you get to come back and graduate again.”