by Dennis Robinson
Remarks given during the Pat Tillman Legacy Summit on Capitol Hill, June 9, 2010.
It feels good, doesn’t it, to be a part of this? Coming together, united in homage to a true military hero? Meeting each other and finding out about the great things we’re doing as scholars, as activists and advocates in our respective communities? Hearing the words of and being inspired by leaders in our nation’s capital. Right here, what we’re doing today, this is impressive.
But I have to ask: what’s next? What will we do tomorrow? Where do we go from here?
In answer to this, I propose that we create a scenario. Let’s look at “what’s next”. Let’s assume that, in the near future, we Tillman Scholars do what is expected of us. We go back to school. We enjoy the gracious scholarships endowed by the foundation. We work hard for good grades. We find some time for some community service. Soon after, we apply for and obtain important employment. We work hard for our employers. We make good money, we take care of our families and, in what little free time we have left, we do our best to give back to our communities. We live as good citizens.
And you, our esteemed elected officials…you are also part of this scenario. In the best traditions of a free and democratic government, you are and will be chosen by a popular majority to represent the people. You serve us at home and here in our nation’s capital. You sponsor legislation which serves your constituency. You champion your ideas and the ideals of your respective political paradigms. You support veterans and veteran’s families. You are a proud participant in the most revered system of government ever known to man. For that, we thank you.
And life goes on for all of us accordingly. That could be our “what’s next”. We leave this conference, thinking about the wonderful presentations we saw, the inspiring speeches we heard. We remember the interesting and important people we met here in D.C. We conclude this “Pat Tillman Legacy Summit” with a warm feeling in our hearts and a head full of memories…memories about the amazing person Pat Tillman was and how his legacy brought us all together. And tomorrow we see Pat Tillman in the same way everyone sees him: as a man who gave everything…everything, including what was sure to be a tremendous and well-paying career in the National Football League, quiet nights at home with a woman he loved more than life itself, and the relative safety afforded within in our country’s domestic borders in order to serve in war.
Leaving this conference with those thoughts could be our “what’s next”.
Let’s create another scenario. Indulge me while I walk through this with you. In this scenario, our tomorrow is atypical. In this scenario, we look at our “what’s next” very differently because in this scenario, we look at Pat Tillman differently. We stop looking at Pat Tillman as we know him, as that war hero who paid the ultimate price in service to our country. We no longer see him as a linebacker from Arizona State, or as a safety with the Arizona Cardinals. We no longer see him as the guy who walked away from millions of dollars to become an Army Ranger who served so honorably with the 75th Ranger Regiment in Iraq and Afghanistan. We stop looking at Pat as a philosopher, as an avid and profound journal-keeper, as a son, as a husband, as a patriot. We even stop looking at Pat as the namesake of our foundation, as the person whose legacy survives for no lesser purpose than to inspire us all to be something more than what we are. In this “what’s next”, we stop looking at Pat Tillman as just a man.
Doing as much unabashedly strips our scenario of all we have come to know about Pat Tillman. We effectively negate all the value of the aforementioned presentations, of all of the things about his legacy which intend to inspire us. Doing as much is highly unconventional. I would like to read you to a piece of writing from someone who inspires me.
It goes as follows:
“Somewhere inside, we hear a voice, and intuitively know the answer to any problem or situation we encounter. Our voice leads us in the direction of the person we wish to become, but it is up to us whether or not to follow. More times than not, we are pointed in a predictable, straight-forward, and seemingly positive direction. However, occasionally we are directed down a different path entirely. Not necessarily a bad path, but a more difficult one. In my case, a path that many will disagree with, and more significantly, one that may cause a great deal of inconvenience to those I love. Despite this, however, I am equally positive that this new direction will, in the end, make our lives fuller, richer, and more meaningful.”
I love that piece. The writer purposely aims to defy the conventional. He talks about taking a difficult and completely different path. He talks about the naysayers who will doubt the value of taking such a path. But most importantly, he speaks of the rich and intrinsic meaning of taking such a different path, not so much for the one walking it, but for those following in his footsteps.
Again, I ask, in the alternate, unconventional scenario which we have created, what remains? What do we have? To remind you, it is no longer Pat Tillman the man. With his legacy solidified, his service renowned, all others see Pat in the way I am asking you to stop seeing him. Rather, I am asking you to see Pat Tillman in the way the writer of the aforementioned piece sees him: as an unconventional human being. His spirit of service defied convention. He had the guts to do it all differently, to ignore everyone and everything conventional in order to do what he knew in his heart was the right thing to do.
I propose something unconventional. I propose that we stop looking at Pat Tillman as a man and start looking at Pat Tillman as an idea. Because you know what’s great about a good idea? It doesn’t die. It doesn’t remain the topic of a summit, the basis of a scholarship, or the justification for veteran-specific legislation. Rather, it inspires. It motivates. It gives us the guts to challenge the world because we know that the merits of a good idea will become so evident that we no longer need discuss them, but only follow them in order to achieve the mission to which the idea aspires. I guarantee you that if we do this, if we make Pat an idea, his legacy will ground us and motivate us in the way the best ideas do, the way the idea of honorable military defines our identity, the way in which our idea of what the Tillman Foundation is and what are connection to should be, whether that’s as a scholar or a sponsor or a supporter, or the way the idea of democracy binds us a nation and forges us a citizens. I challenge you to be unconventional and to take on Pat Tillman as an idea.
And what is that idea? Only this: that we come together, in society, in war, in this very room, because like him we know we exist to serve a purpose so much greater than anything we individually could achieve. We are destined to do more, not for ourselves, but for each other. This could be our alternate scenario. We take on our “what’s next” with an idea that tells us it’s no longer about me, or you. It’s about us. We let the idea give us the courage to serve each other, no matter the consequences. We stand up, like Pat, and we defy everyone. We fight.
So here it is, our alternate scenario. Let’s take on our “what’s next” the way Pat would. Let’s do something unconventional. Let’s do something out of line, something that takes guts, something for which we know everyone will doubt us but for which we also know we must do because our heart tells us as much. Let us, like Pat, give it all up. Let’s abandon the normal scenario in which we get good grades and good jobs and justify our scholarships with token service. Let’s look at our support for veterans and military families as something more than a way to cater to our constituency. Let’s attack our “what’s next” like there is no “what’s next”, but rather a moment in which we exist right now to serve a purpose greater than ourselves. Let us, in the spirit of Pat Tillman, go do something unconventional.
Dennis Robinson is a Tillman Military Scholar who graduated in 2010 from the University of Maryland with a J.D./MBA. After serving 7 years as an enlisted soldier in the U.S. Army, Dennis returned home with his wife, Lynda, to their native city of Baltimore, Maryland. He is a co-founder of The 6th Branch, a nonprofit organization based in Baltimore which seeks to unite the veterans and non-veterans through collaborative community service. You can find more information about The 6th Branch at www.the6thbranch.org.To read more from Dennis, visit his blog “B Something More” and follow him @DennisERobinson.