CWU News

CWU Cadets Welcome Retired Marine General Jim Mattis to Campus

One of Central Washington University’s most distinguished alumni visited campus Thursday to meet with Army ROTC student cadets. 

Retired General James “Jim” Mattis stopped by the CWU Challenge Course for a half hour to share his wisdom and advice with 35 members of the Wildcat Battalion.

“The only thing you can control is how you react to something,” the 1971 alum told the cadets. “No matter what happens, we choose how we are going to respond to every situation. But what you do comes down to what’s in your heart.”

Lieutenant Colonel Bonnie Kovatch, who directs the battalion, said she could feel her cadets’ pride as they interacted with Mattis, a 43-year Marine veteran who most recently served as the U.S. Secretary of Defense from 2017-19. 

“It’s just beyond measure to have General Mattis — who’s not only an alum but also a storied, heroic leader — come talk to them,” said Kovatch, a professor of military science. “They will remember it for the rest of their careers.”

Mattis made some brief introductory remarks before answering a series of questions from the cadets. He also thanked them for their decision to serve their country.

“We’re counting on you, but it’s not going to be easy,” Mattis told the group. “But if the Army knocks you down, you will get back up because nothing can stop your spirit.” 

Mattis, who lives in Richland, was on his way to Suncadia Resort in Cle Elum to attend a CWU Foundation event, where he was to receive an honorary doctorate degree during a mostly virtual ceremony. The CWU Foundation provided each member of the Wildcat Battalion with a signed copy of Mattis’ book, Call Sign Chaos — Learning to Lead. 

Kovatch said Mattis contacted CWU about visiting campus because he enjoys meeting young servicemen and women.

“He requested this,” she said. “He wanted to give back in his own way and continue to engage with young troops and soldiers. It means the world to us.” 

Just having Mattis come to campus was an honor. But the messages he left with the student cadets are sure to make a more lasting impression.

“He told them to stay curious and to take responsibility,” Kovatch said. “He encouraged them to be curious, humble, stable adults, which is what we want in our young leaders.”

Media contact: David Leder, Department of Public Affairs,, 509-963-1518.