“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, and begin by holding ourselves accountable to truthfulness, and demand our pursuit of America's future be fact-based,” Rex Tillerson said during a commencement address at the Virginia Military Institute, Lexington.

Tillerson warned of a "growing crisis in ethics and integrity" reflected upon American democracy.

While warning the graduates about an integrity crisis threatening the country, he said that when citizens go wobbly on truth in the most trivial matters, they go wobbly on America.

“If we do not as Americans confront the crisis of ethics and integrity in our society and among our leaders in both public and private sector — and regrettably, at times, even the non-profit sector — then American democracy, as we know it, is entering its twilight years,” the former Secretary of State said in his first remark since leaving the administration.

The ex-diplomat stressed on the importance of truth in political discourse and was also critical of all leaders who encouraged society based on wishful thinking. “If our leaders seek to conceal 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,” he said.

Tillerson said the damage done by a lack of public trust in certain individuals and institutions at the top, disturbs the concept of a free society.

He advised the graduates to "carefully consider the values and culture of the organizations in which you seek to work. Look for employers who set high standards for personal conduct and who reward ethical leadership,” and emphasized that integrity is the most valuable asset they have. “We do not have to look far to find examples of the cost to individuals and to society when integrity is sacrificed for immediate gain or personal achievement,” he said.

In his farewell remarks, Tillerson said the nation’s capital could be “a very mean-spirited town.”

rex tillerson Outgoing U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson gives farewell remarks to State Department employees March 22, 2018, at the State Department in Washington, D.C. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Tillerson, who was overseeing the State Department and policy disputes with the White House, was unceremoniously dismissed by President Donald Trump in March this year after Trump announced his firing on Twitter. Their relationship turned sour after Tillerson called Trump a “moron” during a meeting at the Pentagon in July last year.

The duo had also locked horns on matters involving Russia, Iran and North Korea in particular. In October, the president tweeted that Tillerson was wasting his time on negotiations with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un through the State Department's diplomatic backchannels.

Tillerson was criticized for his failure to fill rank-and-file jobs, his perceived aloofness and failure to maintain alliances. Former CIA director Mike Pompeo succeeded Tillerson as Secretary of State. He said that he will give back the department its "swagger."

Trump is scheduled to meet Kim on June 12 in Singapore.