VP Harris, 1st woman to give commencement speech at West Point, welcomes cadets to ‘unsettled world’
May 26, 2023, 9:12 PM | Updated: May 27, 2023, 8:48 am
NEW YORK (AP) — Vice President Kamala Harris, the first woman to deliver a commencement speech at West Point, lauded graduating cadets Saturday for their noble sacrifice in serving their country, but noted they were entering an “unsettled world” because of Russian aggression and the rising threats from China.
“The world has drastically changed,” Harris told the roughly 950 graduating cadets. She referred to the global pandemic that took millions of lives and the fraught shifts in global politics in Europe and in Asia.
“It is clear you graduate into an increasingly unsettled world where long-standing principles are at risk,” she said.
As the U.S. ended two decades of war in Afghanistan, the longest in the country’s history, the vice president again condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the first major ground war in Europe since World War II.
She also warned cadets to be wary of China, as it rapidly modernizes its military and muscles for control of parts of the high seas, ostensibly referring to the brewing disputes over the South China Sea.
Harris made no mention in her address about the ongoing skirmishing in Washington, where the White House and congressional Republicans try to avert a debt crisis.
In her speech, Harris touched on the importance of having institutions reflect the diversity of the broader United States, making the comment at an institution that has made slow progress diversifying its ranks in the four decades since the first class of female cadets graduated.
Today, about one quarter of the student body are women. Only a few dozen graduates each year are Black women, like Harris, though the number has ticked up in recent years. The academy didn’t admit women until 1976 and had its first female graduates in 1980.
Upon graduation, the cadets will be commissioned as Army second lieutenants.
West Point dates to 1802. Since then, the college has educated future military leaders including Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Gen. George Patton and Presidents Ulysses S. Grant and Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Harris’ visit is her first to the U.S. Army academy. That she is the first woman to be the featured speaker at the storied military academy was purely a matter of circumstance. Commencement speakers at the country’s military academies are usually delivered by the president, vice president or high-ranking military official — which until Harris’ election meant speakers have always been men.
Harris was joined at the commencement by Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth, who in 2021 became the first woman to hold the military service’s top civilian post.
While Harris visited West Point, about 60 miles (96 kilometers) north of Manhattan, President Joe Biden heads to Colorado Springs, Colorado, on Thursday to address graduates at the U.S. Air Force Academy.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III addressed the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, on Friday.
Last year, Harris addressed graduates at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut.