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Harris Calls On Graduating Mids To Be Experts For Defense

The Blue Angels salute the US Naval Academy Class of 2021
Joel McCord
The Blue Angels salute the US Naval Academy Class of 2021

Vice President Kamala Harris painted a picture of a world at an inflection point for the Naval Academy’s Class of 2021 Friday. And she told them they would be the ones to lead the nation through the changes.

Speaking to nearly 1,100 graduates at Navy Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Harris ticked off a list of points in history after which the word was forever changed; the stock market crash of 1929, the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 and the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

She said they were moments that tested our systems, our structures, and our standing in the world. And she compared them to the coronavirus pandemic, cyberattacks and climate change.

“This, midshipmen, is the era we are in. And it is unlike any era that came before,” she said. “So the challenge now, the challenge before us now, is how to mount a modern defense to these modern threats.”

Harris recalled a visit to the USS Scranton, a Los Angeles Class submarine, when she was on the Senate Intelligence Committee and asking the skipper what it would take to protect it from cyberattacks. He told her two things: equipment and experts.

“Well, the way I see it, Midshipman, you, you, you are those experts. And you will be the ones to do it,” she said. “You will be the ones to do it because the United States military is the best, the bravest and the most brilliant.”

The graduates, she said, will be the ones to navigate and mitigate the threat of climate change, using their skills as mechanical engineers, electrical engineers and oceanographers to help convert solar and wind energy into combat power.

“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,” she added giggling.

Harris is the first female vice president to speak to the graduating class at any of the US service academies. It was a point not lost on Paul Malatesta, soon to be commissioned a Marine Second Lieutenant, as he waited for the ceremony to begin.

“It’s pretty awesome to have the vice president here,” he said. “I’m excited to get my diploma from her.”

For these midshipmen it’s been challenging, dealing with the pandemic.

Molly Swagger, who was soon to be commissioned a Navy Ensign, called it weird, but rewarding.

“I'm a member of the women's soccer team,” she explained. “So being able to go through this place and having such great teammates and being a cyber operations major, becoming really good friends with my company mates and just, you know, having obviously a challenging time here, but it's just been a very, very cool experience.”

The mids filed to their seats on the floor of the stadium to the strains of Pomp and Circumstance played by musicians from the Naval Academy band and the US Navy band from Washington.

They were greeted by the Blue Angels, the Navy’s precision flying team as it roared overhead. They took their oath of office, received their diplomas while families and guests cheered them on from the stands and sang the alma mater, Navy Blue and Gold.

And as always, they ended with three cheers for the Midshipmen they are leaving behind and the loud, raucous hat toss.

Joel McCord is a trumpet player who learned early in life that that’s no way to make a living.