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Politics

Vice President Harris Becomes The First Woman To Speak At U.S. Navy Commencement

Vice President Harris speaks at the graduation and commission ceremony at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. The 63rd superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy, Vice Admiral Sean Buck, is at right.
Vice President Harris speaks at the graduation and commission ceremony at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. The 63rd superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy, Vice Admiral Sean Buck, is at right.

Vice President Harris on Friday described a political moment "unlike any era that came before" as she addressed the graduating class of the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.

She became the first female commencement speaker in the school's history.

In front of an outdoor audience at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, Harris urged graduating midshipmen to defend the country against a number of global threats, including cybersecurity attacks, climate change and biological hazards like the coronavirus.

Comparing the COVID-19 crisis to other "critical moments" that have shaped the nation's history — including Pearl Harbor, the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Sept. 11 attacks — Harris told graduates that they are walking into a "rapidly changing" world.

"The global pandemic you see, of course, has accelerated what was happening before and has accelerated our world into a new era. It has forever impacted our world. It has forever influenced our perspective," she said. "If we weren't clear before, we know now: Our world is interconnected. Our world is interdependent. And our world is fragile."

The address comes as the Biden administration navigates a number of global challenges, including a probe into the origins of the coronavirus, a fragile cease-fire between Israel and Hamas and cyberattacks from Russia. In March, President Biden asked Harris to lead the administration's diplomatic efforts with Mexico and the Northern Triangle countries to address migration at the U.S. border, though she did not mention immigration in the speech.

The White House also announced last month that the United States would withdraw all remaining troops from Afghanistan by the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

The Blue Angels fly over the graduation and commissioning ceremony at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.
Julio Cortez / AP
The Blue Angels fly over the graduation and commissioning ceremony at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.

With her focus on potential threats to the United States, Harris's remarks set a different tone from those of former President Donald Trump, who addressed the Naval Academy in 2018. In that speech, Trump told graduates that "we are witnessing the great reawakening of the American spirit and of American might."

Harris expressed confidence in the U.S. military's ability to put the country at "a strategic advantage," citing its role in the development of technologies like walkie talkies, the internet and satellite navigation. She also noted the military's involvement in the development and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines — and she praised graduates for getting vaccinated.

"You guys rolled up your sleeves and you got vaccinated and you made it to this day," she said to a round of applause.

Harris added that prior to the ceremony, she visited the gravesite of the late Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican, at the Naval Academy Cemetery.

Among Friday's graduates was Midshipman Class 1 Sydney Barber, the first Black woman to serve as the academy's brigade commander, the top leadership position for Navy Academy students.

"The American people are depending on you: the best, the bravest, the most brilliant," Harris said to the graduates. "Class of 2021, you are prepared for all of this. You are prepared for any threat. You are prepared for this new era."

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