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RADM June E. Ryan Speaks with Cadets

On November 7, 2013, Randolph-Macon Academy cadets might have walked into Boggs Chapel thinking they were in for a boring lecture by a guest speaker. If so, they were sorely mistaken. As Rear Admiral June E. Ryan of the U.S. Coast Guard began speaking, the energy level in the Boggs Chapel rose almost immediately. The candy being tossed around the room didn’t hurt either.

Ryan, who is the Military Advisor to the Secretary of Homeland Security and a living testimony to the power of positive thinking, immediately stated that she wanted to provide three things:

1.    For the students and adults gathered to walk away having learned something.
2.    To take away something they could do today, tonight or tomorrow.
3.    An interactive experience—hence the candy reward for anyone who participated.

Ryan spoke of the “P.O.W.E.R.” of “OMG” and “LOL.” The acronyms didn’t mean what the students were used to. 

Ryan asked the students who knew exactly what they wanted to do in life to stand up. After they had returned to their seats, she then asked the students who had no idea what they wanted to do to stand up.

“I had no idea what I wanted to do at your age,” she assured the second group. “Whether you know what you want to do or you have no idea, you’re on exactly the right path.”

She taught the students, “O what the heck, go for it anyway.” This became a sort of mantra throughout her college and Coast Guard career. At times she was not particularly excited about the “opportunities” that arose, but she approached all of them with, “O what the heck, go for it anyway.”

“We talk to ourselves, on average, 30,000 times per day,” she told the students. “Most of those are negative.”

Ryan said the “P” in “P.O.W.E.R.” stands for “Positive.” “Use affirmative phrases,” she said. She pointed out that the mind and subconscious cannot process the negative. Therefore, if an athlete is told, “Don’t miss the goal,” what the mind processes is, “Miss the goal.”

The “O” in “P.O.W.E.R.” is about “Optimism.” “What’s your story?” Ryan asked. She declared that when she runs into a spider web, she raises her arms and says, “Yes! I have just won a race and I didn’t even know I was running.”

“Adversity,” she said, “is about hatching butterflies. It will make you stronger and better in the end.” She explained that butterflies must struggle out of the cocoon in order for the wings to be strong enough to fly. If a person were to try to help and rip open the cocoon for the butterfly, the beautiful insect would never be strong enough to fly, and it would die.  

She went on to talk about the “W,” which stands for “We.” “Raise others up and allow others to raise you up,” she encouraged. “It’s about teamwork.” The “E” stands for “Energy” and “Enthusiasm,” and the “R” stands for Rest. 

As for OMG and LOL…the first stood for “O what the heck.” “A lot of times we don’t take chances because we’re afraid,” she said. “If I’m not a member of the cross-country team, and I try out for the cross-country team, and I don’t make the cross-country team, then I’m still not a member of the cross-country team. My life hasn’t changed. It hasn’t gotten any worse.”

The “M” in OMG, she said, stands for “My motivation is from…” “It’s about doing it even though you don’t feel like it. Bring others up. We are candles. A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle.”

The “G” was for “Goodness…” Ryan offered the students a question to ponder. “If God hired you today to do a summer job, what would you want Him to have you do?” After a pause she added, “It’s important to know why you’re here.”

LOL stood for “Lead Or be Led.” She talked of how geese take turns flying at the front of their formation so that none gets too tired, and if one falls out of the formation, its partner follows it down. She also spoke of the redwood tree. “It’s the oldest living organism on the planet,” she pointed out, “But it has the shallowest root system.” She explained that because the roots and branches intertwine, the wind can never blow against a single tree; it is always blowing against the entire forest. Finally, taking the newest student on campus, Ryan demonstrated how he knew something she didn’t know: how to get to Maj Gen Maury Forsyth’s office. “Every individual is important and has a part to play,” she said. “It’s about teamwork.” 

Randolph-Macon Academy (R-MA), founded in 1892, is a college-preparatory, coeducational day and boarding school for students in grades 6 through 12.  Students in grades 9-12 participate in R-MA’s 91st Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) and have the option to participate in a unique flight program. R-MA is affiliated with the United Methodist Church and is located in Front Royal, VA.