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Rex Tillerson warns of "growing crisis of integrity and ethics"

Rex Tillerson's commencement speech

Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson argued Wednesday that the U.S. is experiencing a "growing crisis of integrity and ethics" in his first public speech since leaving the Trump administration almost two months ago.

"When we as people, a free people, go wobbly on the truth even on what may seem the most trivial of matters, we go wobbly on America," Tillerson told the graduating class of cadets at the Virginia Military Institute. 

While he did not mention President Trump by name, Tillerson did reference an "accepting of alternate realities" and warned that the country is in danger if Americans can't agree on basic facts.

"If our leaders seek to conceal the truth and we as people become accepting of alternative realities that are no longer grounded in facts, then as an American people we are on a pathway to relinquishing our freedom," Tillerson said.

Tillerson emphasized that what makes America different from Iran, China, Russia and other adversaries is its commitment to fact-based truths. And he expects doomsday if the U.S. starts accepting alternate realities not based on a set of facts.

"If we do not as Americans confront the crisis of ethics and integrity in our society and among our leaders in both private and public sector, and regrettably at times even the nonprofit sector, then American democracy as we know it is entering its twilight years," Tillerson said.

Tillerson always emphasized the importance of following a moral compass and maintaining personal integrity when he gave remarks to employees at the State Department. He pressed that sentiment in his short departing remarks.

"Never lose sight of your most valuable asset, the most valuable asset you possess: your personal integrity," he said before leaving the department and heading home to Texas in March. "This can be a very mean-spirited town. But you don't have to choose to participate in that."

Rex Tillerson emphasizes integrity and kindness in farewell speech

Tillerson, who has maintained a very low profile since leaving office, put this speech on his calendar in January and those close to him say that he did not want to back out of the commitment. There is no expectation that today's speech was the beginning of a Tillerson publicity blitz.

The former Exxon Mobil CEO explained that he never wanted the top job at the energy giant, echoing comments he had made at the State Department about never wanting to be America's top diplomat. Tillerson also told the cadets that his best job more than 20 years ago was when worked as the Exxon divisional manager with responsibility over a large part of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado.

"Best job I had ever had. It has all been downhill since," Tillerson said as the crowd laughed. He then went on to discuss his hope for the class: That they would live happy lives through focusing on ideals that unite people while holding their integrity close.

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