A Commencement Address to Graduates in Emergency Management

Congratulations! You have completed a step most of your future colleagues have never done – achieving formal academic training in your chosen profession before entering it.
As a result, you know a fair amount about the issues and challenges many of us had to learn on the fly. Hopefully, you also will benefit from being exposed to the errors we have made along the way.
One problem you will face is that entrenched emergency management shops may not know how to react to you. You have energy and ideas and likely are much more technologically advanced than some who will oversee your work. You are better educated in the history and mechanics of the field than most of us were, and yet it will be a while before most of you are paid as well or have an opportunity to lead or direct operations. At times, the road ahead and the people in your path will seem obstacles to your advancement.
There remains a balance between “book learning” and practical experience. Both are important in your growth. In my time, trainers were often not well-versed in the professional challenges we faced or even the specific subject they were training us in. The old saying “them that can’t do, teach” was too often the rule. But on the job, there are many lessons to be gleaned from the experience of assisting communities to recover. Or from preparing a community to sustain itself in advance, and those lessons can be merged into future preparatory work that, one day, you might be called upon to teach to others. When that day comes, there will be in your audience bright, young, motivated individuals who will lean forward when you share a detail from your experience that may not have been covered at all in the classes they took.
Well, I will not keep you. As a graduate in emergency management, you will take your learning and passion into government, education, the private sector, or even some profession that does not presently exist. The skillset you have demonstrated and acquired will be helpful to anywhere you land, and you very well might land just about anywhere.
It takes special people to aspire to work in emergency management; I often observed: “The pay is low, but the hours can be brutally long!” What drives most of us is the conviction that when the social equilibrium is threatened, we choose to be among those that work to minimize human suffering and restore normalcy to society.
After spending about six months as Director in Seattle’s Office of Emergency Management, a friend listened to me enthusiastically discuss the duties and responsibilities I had assumed. He dryly commented that it “sounds like a great job until something happens,” to which I now, thirty years later, would retort, “It is a great job because something will happen, and I will have a chance to make things better.
There, you already know more now than I did then.
Good luck, and thank you.
Jim Mullen

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