- Vice President Harris became the first woman to give a commencement address at the Naval Academy.
- She told graduates they would be taking “an oath to support our Constitution and defend it against all enemies.”
- Harris also paid respects to the late Sen. John McCain, a prominent Naval Academy graduate.
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When Vice President Kamala Harris addressed the graduates of the United States Naval Academy on Friday, she became the first female commencement speaker in its 175-year-history.
At the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Maryland, Harris told the graduates that they would be taking “an oath to support our Constitution and defend it against all enemies.”
“No matter what changes in our world, the charge in this oath is constant,” she emphasized.
Harris spoke of the immense challenges that graduates would face, including the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, and cybersecurity threats.
She called climate change “a very real threat to our national security” and lauded the graduates for being part of the future for tackling the issue.
“I look at you and I know you are among the experts who will navigate and mitigate this threat,” she said. “You are ocean engineers who will help navigate ships through thinning ice. You are mechanical engineers who will help reinforce sinking bases. You are electrical engineers who will soon help convert solar and wind energy into power, convert solar and wind energy into combat power.”
She told the graduates that they would be critical in securing the country’s infrastructure.
“Foreign adversaries have their sights set on our military technology, our intellectual property, our elections, our critical infrastructure,” she said. “The way I see it, midshipmen, you are those experts on the issue of cybersecurity.”
She added: “We must defend our nation against these threats. And at the same time, we must make advances in things that you’ve been learning, things like quantum computing and artificial intelligence and robotics, and things that will put our nation at a strategic advantage. You will be the ones to do it because the United States military is the best, the bravest, and the most brilliant.”
Harris also praised the military officers who have helped vaccinate Americans across the country.
The vice president’s speech comes as the Pentagon accelerates the timeline for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, which will likely occur in mid-July, up from an earlier projected date of September 11, 2021, the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
She told the graduates that the September 11, 2001, attack “shaped your entire life, and it shaped our entire nation,” and said that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the fabric of American society.
“If we weren’t clear before, we know now: The world is interconnected,” she said. “Our world is interdependent. And our world is fragile.”
Harris also gave a nod to female graduates only 46 years since Congress mandated that women could be admitted to service academies.
“Just ask any Marine today, would she rather carry 9kg of batteries or solar panels, and I am positive, she will tell you a solar panel – and so would he,” she laughingly said.
She then paid respects to the late Sen. John McCain of Arizona, a graduate of the academy, whom she called “a great and courageous American.”
McCain, who passed away in August 2018, is buried at the US Naval Academy Cemetery in Annapolis.
“Most people don’t know he wanted to be buried next to his best friend who he met on the yard, Admiral Chuck Larson,” she said. “That is the ultimate example of what I mean, in it together.”
Earlier this month, President Joe Biden gave his first commencement address as commander-in-chief at the US Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut.
“No class gets to choose the world into which it graduates, and demands and the challenges you’re going to face in your career are going to look very different than those who walked these halls before you,” he told the graduates. “You chose, as a class motto – ‘We are the future.’ I don’t think you have any idea how profound that assertion is.”