Speaking from the academy’s campus in New London, Connecticut, Biden recognized the accomplishments of the graduates amid an unprecedented pandemic before he outlined his belief that the US is at a “significant inflection point in world history,” broadly discussing the Coast Guard’s role in pandemic, storm, wildfire and flooding response.
“When nations try to game the system or tip the rules in their favor, it throws everything off balance. That’s why we are so adamant that these areas of the world that are the arteries of trade and shipping remain peaceful, whether that’s the South China Sea, the Arabian Gulf, and, increasingly, the Arctic,” Biden said. “It’s a vital interest to America’s foreign policy: secure, unimpeded flow of global commerce. It won’t happen without us taking an active role to set the norms of conduct to shape them around democratic values, not those of autocrats.”
Biden last delivered a commencement address to the academy in 2013 when he was vice president. Now this year, marking his first commencement address since taking office, the President said he believes the demands and challenges the 2021 class will face “are going to look very different than those who walked these halls before you.”
Biden recognized during his remarks that last year, the Coast Guard Academy’s graduating class held a virtual graduation ceremony. This year, graduates were seated on a football field spaced about 3 feet apart with families spaced out across half-full bleachers.
The President credited the cadets for meeting “the threat” of the pandemic “head on.”
“You adapted, showed your resilience and you led,” Biden said. “And with careful precautions and regular testing, you were able to go back to your lives and training in New London to conduct your first year class in person. It certainly looked and felt different, I’m sure, but you found ways to keep many of the academy’s traditions alive and maybe even formed a few new ones.”
He called the in-person graduation an “important marker” in progress against the pandemic and “a victory in and of itself.”
“It’s a testament (to) the skill and military discipline and sense of responsibility you already embody. So there’s 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 in the proudest positions of our service,” Biden said.
He also marked the moment — his first addressing this group as commander-in-chief — by absolving graduates of minor infractions.