President Biden told graduating members of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy’s Class of 2021 on Wednesday that, with the growing global challenges and threats facing the United States, the country needs them more than ever.
“The world is changing,” the president said. “Your mission will become even more global and even more important.”
Mr. Biden delivered the keynote address at the commencement exercises before about 240 graduates in New London, Connecticut. It’s his first such address to a graduating military academy as commander-in-chief.
“Class of 2021, it’s time for you to go out and be the future — to make the future,” he said.
He commended the graduates for adapting during the coronavirus pandemic. Last year’s ceremony was held virtually due to public health concerns.
“You found ways to keep many of the academy’s traditions alive, and maybe formed new ones,” the president said. “There is no doubt in my mind that the 140th graduating class of the United States Coast Guard Academy will reflect the very best of our country.”
Mr. Biden said the Coast Guard is as vital as ever given the importance of areas like the South China Sea, the Arabian Gulf, and the Arctic in allowing for the unimpeded flow of global commerce.
He said general rules of the road and longtime maritime principles such as freedom of navigation are a “bedrock” of global security.
“As you know, increasingly we’re seeing those rules challenged — both by the rapid advance of technology and the disruptive actions of nations like China and Russia,” the president said.
He said he’s had “direct discussions” about such principles with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Mr. Biden said he’s confident the graduating class is up to handling the challenge.
“You’re the most progressive, best educated, least prejudiced, most open generation in American history,” he said. “We need you badly. You’re ready. It’s time to get underway.”
Mr. Biden pointed out that the Coast Guard has been vital in the United States’ pandemic response, noting the 500 Coast Guard reservists who have been deployed to assist in coronavirus vaccination efforts.
“Pandemic response would not necessarily have been considered a Coast Guard mission until there were more than 250,000 stranded cruise passengers who needed [to] be safely disembarked during COVID-19,” he said.
He said climate change is causing more frequent and more intense storms that are requiring bolstered responses from the Coast Guard in disaster response efforts.
“These patterns are only going to get worse if [we] fail to take immediate and ambitious actions on climate,” he said.
Mr. Biden also absolved the graduating class of any minor infractions and said he wished he had gotten such a blanket pardon after his time in college.
“I needed, as we say in my faith — I needed absolution,” he said. “As your commander-in-chief, I’ve been looking forward to being able to do this for a long time.”
Adm. Karl Schultz, commandant of the Coast Guard, commended the graduates for surviving unique and arduous circumstances.
“As our commander-in-chief President Biden says, we lead not only by the example of our power, but by the power of our example,” Adm. Schultz said.
Attendance at the event was limited due to COVID-19 restrictions.Mr. Biden also addressed a Coast Guard graduating class in 2013 as vice president.
Presidents, vice presidents and secretaries of defense typically deliver addresses at service academy graduating exercises on a rotating basis.
Vice President Kamala D. Harris is scheduled to deliver the keynote speech at the U.S. Naval Academy’s graduation ceremony in Annapolis, Maryland, later this month.
Former President Trump addressed the Coast Guard’s graduating class in 2017. Mr. Trump urged the graduates to fight and said things aren’t always fair.
“Look at the way I’ve been treated lately, especially by the media,” Mr. Trump said. “No politician in history — and I say this with great surety — has been treated worse or more unfairly.”
“You can’t let them get you down. You can’t let the critics and the naysayers get in the way of your dreams,” the former president said to cheers and applause.
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