“We need you badly – that’s not hyperbole,” he said. “You’re ready.”
Biden’s address to the 240 men and women in the academy’s graduating class marked his first commencement address as commander in chief.
As a bright morning sun beamed down, Biden saluted as he began to walk through the cordon of cadets that stretched across nearly half of Cadet Memorial Field to get to the outdoor stage. Soon after Biden took his place on the unshaded stage, cannons were fired 21 times.
The graduating class, which included seven international cadets who will serve in their home countries’ armed forces, sat in white folding chairs socially distanced in front of the stage. The ceremony was closed to the public and fewer guests were allowed to attend because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
After teasing the crowd that he was going to speak for four hours in the hot sun, Biden addressed the graduates and their guests for roughly half an hour.
“Is the sun getting to you?” he joked at one point when the expected applause for a reference to the Navy didn’t quickly materialize. Taking the hint, the crowd clapped.
Biden continued the long-standing tradition of absolving any midshipmen on restriction for minor conduct offense. “You have no idea how much I wish I had been able to do that at my graduation,” said Biden, a graduate of the University of Delaware.
Biden noted the cadets’ long list of accomplishments, which he said included getting a haircut that showed every bump on their head. Of the class motto, “We are the future,” Biden said: “I don’t think you have any idea how profound that assertion is. The world is changing. We’re at a significant inflection point.”
Striking a serious tone, Biden said the U.S. has to take an active role in setting the norms of conduct, shaping them around democratic values and not autocrats. “Your mission will become even more global and even more important,” he said.
“No class gets to choose the world into which he graduates,” he said. “The challenges you’re going to face in your career are going to look very different than those who walked these halls before.”
But “we’ve proven there’s not a single thing we cannot do as a nation when we do it together,” he said.
Though Biden’s remarks were his first to a service academy as president, the speech marked a return visit. He addressed the academy’s 2013 graduating class, when he was vice president.
Presidents and vice presidents deliver commencement speeches to the U.S. military academies on a rotating schedule. Vice President Kamala Harris is delivering the keynote speech at the U.S. Naval Academy this month.
Rear Adm. Bill Kelly, the academy’s superintendent, called Biden’s address “a memorable event for our community, as well as a great opportunity to showcase the academy and the city of New London on a national stage.”
President Donald Trump used his 2017 speech to tell the Coast Guard cadets that “adversity makes you stronger.” And, he said, he should know.
“No politician in history – and I say this with great surety – has been treated worse or more unfairly,” Trump said.
Contributing: Michael Collins