CWU News

CWU Grad Nominated as Secretary of Defense


President-elect Donald Trump will nominate retired Marine General James N. Mattis, a graduate of Central Washington University, to serve as his Secretary of Defense.

The former commander of U.S. Central Command grew up in the Tri-Cities area and graduated from CWU in 1971. Mattis was Central’s commencement speaker in 2011 ( During his speech, Mattis told graduates it would be important for them to have a code to live by in public and private life.

“You need to write your own code; no one can write it for you,” Mattis said. “It will help you make a positive impact on the lives of others and help you overcome mental and physical scrapes and bruises.”

In 1971, Mattis graduated from CWU in the middle of the school year and didn’t have the chance to walk with his fellow graduates in spring commencement exercises. During his appearance at the 2011 commencement, CWU President James L. Gaudino surprised Mattis by inviting him to step forward for the traditional exchange of diploma and congratulations by the president.

In 2007, Mattis returned to the CWU campus for the first time since his graduation and spoke to students on the topic, “Leaders of Character: Conflicts, Dilemmas, and Outcomes.” In his remarks, he noted, “between my life experiences, the education I received her at Central, and my experiences in the Marines, I was well prepared for the challenges that I face today.”

After graduating from Central with a bachelor of arts degree in history, Mattis was commissioned as a Marine Second Lieutenant. He later graduated from the Amphibious Warfare School, Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and the National War College.

Mattis served with distinction in the Persian Gulf War, the War in Afghanistan, and the Iraq War. He has been honored with numerous awards and recognitions for his service including the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the Navy Distinguished Service Medal, the Defense Superior Service Medal, the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star Medal, and others.

In addition to achieving the rank of four-star general in the Marine Corp, Mattis served as NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander from 2007-2009 and commander of the U.S. Joint Forces Command from 2007-2010. He retired as the chief of the U.S. Central Command in spring 2013, following 44 years in the Marine Corps.

Mattis’ formal nomination is expected early next week and it must be approved by the U.S. Senate. According to the Washington Post, in order for Mattis to assume the position Congress will have to approve a waiver of an existing federal law stating defense secretaries cannot have been on active duty in the previous seven years.

Media contact: Richard Moreno, director of content development, 509-963-2714,


- December 2, 2016