"As I reflect upon the state of American democracy", he told the Class of 2018, "I observe a growing crisis in ethics and integrity".
"If our leaders seek to hide the truth, or we as people become accepting of alternative realities that are no longer grounded in facts, then we as American citizens are on a pathway to relinquishing our freedom", Tillerson said in the commencement address, which was scheduled before he was sacked by President Donald Trump in March.
The former Exxon-Mobile 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's time in Trump administration was marked by tension; he reportedly called the president a "moron" eight months before he was sacked and replaced by then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo. His speech, which began with a discussion on the globalized economy and stressed "the value of friends and allies", is the closest he has come to attacking Trump's rhetoric and "America First" policy.
A commitment to facts "binds us to other like-minded democratic nations", he said, distinguishing America from "nondemocratic" countries such as Russian Federation.
Tillerson, who has maintained a very low profile since leaving office, put this speech on his calendar back in January and those close to him say that he did not want to back out of the commitment.
"A responsibility of every American citizen to each other is to preserve and protect our freedom by recognizing what truth is and is not, what a fact is and is not", Tillerson said.
The beginning of Tillerson's commencement speech had the feel of a foreign policy address, with Tillerson philosophizing about the importance of the U.S. maintaining its historic alliances and keeping its adversaries in check.