National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency Deputy Director Sue Gordon delivered the commencement address to the Briar Woods High School class of 2015 during the Loudoun County school’s graduation ceremony Tuesday in Fairfax, Virginia.
In front of a receptive crowd of graduates and their families at the Patriot Center at George Mason University, Gordon imparted wisdom gained from 35 years as a professional in the U.S. intelligence community.
“I’ve helped keep America safe for democracy. I’ve travelled hundreds of thousands of miles around the world and met people so different and yet so the same,” she said. “I’ve built things that were more unbelievable than the stuff in sci-fi movies. I’ve led women and men to achieve great heights and I have personally failed in ways that still make me cringe…
“With some hard-won wisdom under my belt, let me offer you some thoughts that I hope you will find useful as you chart your course.”
Gordon told the graduates to be patient, confront challenges, and learn to make decisions.
“This is the most vital of all skills,” said Gordon of the ability to make a decision. “Decisions impel progress. Inertia should not be the dominant force in determining your path. Practice it. Get good at it. You will make some wrong moves, but if every mistake you make is an original mistake, you will find your way.”
Briar Woods High School, which opened in 2005, is 35 miles from the NGA’s headquarters in Springfield, Virginia. The school has been ranked as one of the best high schools in Virginia and the nation by Newsweek Magazine and the Washington Post Challenge for six years in a row.
Gordon, who became the agency’s deputy director in January 2015, finished her address by connecting NGA’s motto, “Know the Earth… Show the Way… Understand the World,” with the lessons that she’s learned – namely to be grounded, generous and aware.
“What you will do, every day, makes a difference,” she said. “Live that way. Now, go forth and do good! I can’t wait to see where you take us.”