President Biden lauded the U.S. Coast Guard Academy’s Class of 2021 as a force of the future that understands “in your bones that our diversity is one of the enduring advantages and inherent strengths to America.”
Biden delivered the commencement address in New London, Conn., on Wednesday as 240 new officers along with seven international students graduated — including 22 African-Americans, the largest number of African-American graduates in one class in Academy history.
In all, the Class of 2021 is composed of 34 percent women and 34 percent from underrepresented minority groups.
The graduates also made history for reaching their achievement through the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic. “This past year, there can be no doubt the Class of ‘21 is ready for whatever its mission may be,” Biden noted.
“The Class of 2021 has led the corps during a very challenging time,” said Academy Superintendent Rear Adm. Bill Kelly. “I am confident they are fully prepared to graduate and serve our nation as officers in the U.S. Coast Guard.”
Biden congratulated Kelly “on everything you’ve done this year to keep this school open and running, and to be as safe as it possibly can and could be in the middle of a pandemic.”
“You adapted, showed your resilience, and you led,” the president told the graduates. “The Class of ’21, you were the ones to test and improve the restricted movements protocols that allowed you to return to class on campus. And with careful precautions and regular testing, you were able to go back to your lives and training here in New London, to conduct your first class year in person.”
“It certainly looked and felt different, I’m sure,” he added. “But you found ways to keep many of the Academy’s traditions alive, and maybe even formed a few new ones. You still were able to bring your cars on campus; you just weren’t allowed to go anywhere in those cars.”
Biden stressed that “through it all, you found ways to excel in the classroom and athletics — you’ve got nine All-Americans in your ranks today, including a record-setter in the track-and-field 5,000 meters.”
“And most importantly — most importantly — you had each other’s backs. When times got hard, you were there for one another. That’s something you all learn quickly at the Academy,” he said. “You can’t crew the tall ship Eagle without working together; it’s not possible. So, the pandemic didn’t change that, but it made it more important.”
The cadets are “joining a chain of service that links each of you to our history,” in “a connection to the very earliest days of our nation as part of this country’s oldest, continuous seagoing service.”
“But 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,” Biden said. “You chose, as a class motto — it reflects this reality — you said, ‘We are the future.’ I don’t think you have any idea how profound that assertion is.”
“The world is changing. We’re at a significant inflection point in world history. And our country and the world — the United States of America has always been able to chart the future in times of great change. We’ve been able to constantly renew ourselves. And time and again, we’ve proven there’s not a single thing we cannot do as a nation when we do it together — and I mean that — not a single solitary thing. And this is particularly important in this moment of accelerating global challenges, hybrid threats that don’t stop at our border. We have to meet them on the land and the sea, wherever we find them. And that’s where the Coast Guard excels.”
Listing some of the Coast Guard operations from drug interdiction to Arctic security and catching illegal fishing, Biden noted that “as we work together with our democratic partners around the world to both update the rules for this new age — to hold all of us accountable to living up to those rules — your mission, your mission will become even more global and even more important.”
“We’re fielding requests from other nations all across the Indo-Pacific that are eager to partner with our Coast Guard because of your reputation of professionalism and your unrivaled skill,” he added.
The president stressed that USCG “must continue to model responsible maritime behavior and uphold clear rules of international agreements that will protect and steward this pristine environment and secure it for future generations — and, by the way, as you know by now, to protect our homeland security as well.”
To applause, Biden noted that he had recently nominated Vice Admiral Linda Fagan, the Coast Guard’s first female four-star admiral, to be vice commandant.
“We need to see more women at the highest levels of command. We have to make sure that women have the chance to succeed and thrive throughout their careers. There’s a saying that we use in a different context — a Chinese saying that says, ‘Women hold up half the world.’ It’s an absolutely stupid position not to make sure they represent at least half of what we do,” he said.
“You’re joining a service that not only serves as America’s front line, it increasingly looks like America. This year’s class is also just over one third underrepresented minorities, including some of the highest number of African-Americans, Asian-Americans, and Pacific Islanders. Each of you will be asked to lead people who come from different backgrounds. Your challenge, as a leader, is to treat every single person with equal dignity and respect, and find ways to unlock everyone’s talent.”
Biden said that “with this generation of graduates of new ensigns in the United States Coast Guard who have volunteered to serve our country, I’ve never been more optimistic about our future.”