Alumnus, Air Force One Captain Inspires Graduates to Lead through Service

Embry-Riddle alumnus and retired United States Air Force Col. Mark W. Tillman delivered the keynote address at the spring 2021 virtual commencement ceremony for Worldwide Campus students at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, June 5.

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University welcomed back one of its most decorated alumni this month, when retired United States Air Force Col. Mark W. Tillman (’95), former commander of the U.S. Presidential Airlift Group, which oversees all Air Force One operations, addressed graduates at the Spring 2021 Worldwide Campus Commencement ceremony, June 5.

For many Embry-Riddle Worldwide Campus students, Tillman noted, schoolwork is often just one facet of their lives, mixed with raising families, working full-time or serving their country.

The worth of a college degree for these “non-traditional” students, he added, goes far beyond the immediate benefits of earning a promotion at work or an advanced military rank. Higher education turns students into leaders – not just bosses – and leaders can make a difference, he said, citing his daughter, who was born with a rare lung condition. He explained how she has never given up fighting throughout her life, and how she makes a difference in the lives of others by inspiring them to rise above their challenges.

“You need to be a servant-leader,” he told graduates. “Your leadership is dedicated to the service of others … understanding the needs of and taking care of those around you will make a difference.”

He promoted focusing on “the basics” of continuous learning, empathy and making a concerted effort to “be there” for friends and family.

“Now go out and make a difference in the lives of others,” he said. “God bless you, and thank you.”

Throughout his career, Tillman piloted 49 foreign trips to 75 countries, as well as orchestrated several covert operations, including transporting President George W. Bush around the country and into Iraq on and in the wake of 9/11.

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