Vice President Kamala Harris is surrounded by the Navy and Marines.
She flies on Marine Two. She lives at the Naval Observatory. Her military aide is a 2004 Naval Academy grad, she said.
Her official desk was made by Seabees out of the timbers of the USS Constitution. And she has the shoulder boards of newly commissioned Marine Corps 2nd Lt. Sydney Barber.
Barber and Harris had a moment on stage as the graduate received her diploma. The two women are both history makers in their own rights. Harris is the first female Black and South Pacific vice president. Barber was the first female Black brigade commander.
Harris is also the first woman to give the keynote speech at the academy. The speech is traditionally given by the president, the vice president or the secretary of defense. Harris is the first woman in any of those positions.
At the ceremony, approximately 275 Marine Corps second lieutenants were commissioned, followed by 786 new Navy ensigns.
The world is rapidly changing, Harris told the graduates, pointing to the pandemic as the most recent significant historical event. Other turning points in history Harris mentioned included Pearl Harbor, the civil rights moment and Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of which is this year. The graduates are some of the last to come to the academy having lived through the attacks.
As newly commissioned ensigns and second lieutenants, the graduates will now have to help figure out how to address the rapidly changing world, ushered in by the pandemic.
“Just think, a deadly pandemic can spread throughout the globe in just a matter of months,” Harris said. “A gang of hackers can disrupt the fuel supply of a whole seaboard. One country’s carbon emissions can threaten the sustainability of the whole Earth.”
Military members are among the experts on each of the problems facing the country, and the graduates who will soon enter the fleet will now be tasked with facing those challenges head-on and protecting the country from threats. They’ll also be the leaders in technological advancements.
They’ll even be part of the solutions for climate change, the vice president said. They’ll have to figure out how to navigate ships among thinning ice or reinforce sinking bases.
“And just ask any Marine today, would she rather carry 20 pounds of batteries or a rolled-up solar panel? And I am positive she will tell you a solar panel, and so would he,” Harris said.
Harris’ comments on climate change earned applause from the stands, especially when she referred to female Marines.
The new ensigns and second lieutenants will have to face biological threats, like SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19. The Navy and Marines, as well as other branches of the military, were part of the country’s ongoing response to the pandemic.
“Class of 2021, you are prepared for all of this,” Harris said. “You are prepared for any threat. And you are prepared for this new era.”
Before the graduates could take the oath, they also heard speeches from Superintendent Vice Adm. Sean Buck, acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Harker, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger.
Few classes have borne witness to the kind of change the class of 2021 has, navigating COVID and the unknown, Buck said in his speech as the Naval Academy graduation began.
“So much work has been done to make Commissioning week run smoothly and safely,” Buck said, thanking academy staff.
Harker spoke about mental health, encouraging the graduates to be leaders who would break the stigma and encourage their sailors and Marines to seek help. The acting secretary recalled his own time in the service and how he needed help after some particularly harrowing experiences.
He also spoke about sexual assault and harassment, calling it a “scourge on the military.”
Berger spoke ahead of commissioning the graduating midshipmen who are entering the Marines. “Each Marine is a living memorial to each past Marine,” he said.
Gilday said ahead of commissioning for Navy: “You are joining the fleet at a time of immense competition across the globe.”
Sailors can adapt thanks to strong principled leadership, he said. “Draw on everything you learned here on the banks of the Severn.”
Following the commissioning, the distribution of diplomas began. The first ensign to receive their degree was Thomas Michael Johnstone.
Once each graduate received their diploma, class of 2021 President Cameron Kinley presented Harris with a gift on behalf of the class: her very own Naval Academy jacket. Harris put on the jacket as the former midshipmen cheered from their seats on the field.
Harris is a trailblazer, Ensign Kinley said, and she’ll continue to be an inspiration to those who graduated.
The oath that the newly commissioned service members took is the same oath Harris took when she became vice president, she said. They all promised to uphold the Constitution, which she said should serve as a guide for their service.
They are about to enter a field where they may see the worst of humanity, Harris said. She asked that they promise that they never forget their ideals of duty, honor and loyalty.
“Midshipmen, you are tireless,” Harris said. “You are ambitious. You are a fierce fighting force. You are idealists in the truest sense. You are the embodiment of American aspiration. So hold on to that.”
(c) 2021 The Capital
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