Admiral James Stavridis


Admiral James Stavridis
Doctor of Public Service

Citation presented by Andrew T. Wolff
Associate Professor of Political Science and International Studies

Conferring of the degree by Neil Weissman, Interim President

James George Stavridis, your 2014 autobiography about serving as Supreme Allied Commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has a curious title, The Accidental Admiral. How does one “accidentally” become an admiral? I assume you did not gain this position by mistake or a stroke of luck. What I think the title implies is that your path in life has not been straightforward. As you rose to one of the highest military positions in the world, you had to weave together various ways of thinking, devise creative solutions to unexpected challenges and break with convention. In other words, the story of The Accidental Admiral is a story of a life infused with a liberal-arts mentality. 

In the mid-1970s, you attended the U.S. Naval Academy, where you majored in English, a rarity among midshipmen. After graduating, you served on several cruisers and destroyers, but you also managed to earn a doctorate in international relations from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. It is noteworthy that while in graduate school, you taught a Literature of the Sea course to undergraduates that, of course, included reading Herman Melville. In the 1990s, you commanded the state-of-the-art USS Barry with distinction and oversaw a significant move toward gender equality when the USS Barry became the first destroyer in the fleet to allow female sailors to serve. And, when you became Commander of U.S. Southern Command in 2006, you used your liberal arts training to adapt the organization to a complex, interconnected world. For instance, you demanded that your officers acquire linguistic and cultural skills to enhance interactions with regional partners in Latin America. All the while, and against the counsel of your superiors, you maintained a prolific scholarship agenda that has resulted in hundreds of op-eds and scholarly articles and eight books, two of which will be published this year.  

Even in your 2009 appointment to the top military command of NATO, you smashed through conventional ways of doing business. You were the first Naval officer to become Supreme Allied Commander, a position traditionally held by Army generals. Furthermore, you advocated for the alliance to employ “smart power” to deal with 21st-century security issues. As you define it, “smart power” is the assertion that security is not just about military readiness but also about the adroit application of diplomatic, economic and cultural influences. It is combining elements of soft and hard power in creative ways. For example, you created public-private security partnerships, directly engaged the public about NATO policy, and worked like a diplomat in uniform. You effectively implemented this “smart power” approach to steer NATO’s international security assistance force in Afghanistan, combat piracy off the horn of Africa, enforce a U.N.-mandated no-fly zone in Libya and modify the alliance’s cyber security strategy.

More recently, you have dedicated yourself to education and scholarship. Taking a page from your father, who was also a career military officer and president of the Community College of Alleghany County in Pittsburgh, you became the 12th dean of the Fletcher School at Tufts University in 2013. As dean, you have sought to cultivate strategic thinking and innovative problem-solving skills among students at one of the most prestigious international-affairs schools in the world. Moreover, you have become a public intellectual who frequently makes media appearances, writes a dean’s blog on current affairs and is active on Twitter.

Interim President Weissman, for his service to the United States and to NATO, for modeling a life directed by the liberal arts, for innovative problem solving, for his devotion to education and scholarship, on behalf of the class of 2017, I am honored to present Admiral James Stavridis for the honorary degree of Doctor of Public Service.



Admiral James Stavridis, upon the recommendation of the Faculty to the Board of Trustees, and by its mandamus, I confer upon you the Degree of Doctor of Public Service, honoris causa, with all the rights, privileges and distinction thereunto appertaining, in token of which I present you with this diploma and cause you to be invested with the hood of Dickinson College appropriate to the degree.