NEW YORK — Vice President Kamala Harris, the first woman to deliver a commencement speech at the U.S. Military Academy 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, referring to the global pandemic that took millions of lives, the fraught shifts in global politics in Europe and in Asia, and other challenges.
“It is clear you graduate into an increasingly unsettled world where long-standing principles are at risk,” she said.
The vice president highlighted the pursuit of international security and prosperity, and reminded the cadets that America’s democratic ideals “inspire billions.”
“In the face of all these challenges, America plays a singular role of leadership,” she said. “Cadets, global security and global prosperity depend on the leadership of the United States of America. And a strong America remains indispensable to the world.”
The vice president also singled out Russia and China for criticism.
She called Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the first major ground war in Europe since World War II, “an attack on the lives and freedom of the Ukrainian people and an attack on international rules and norms that have served as the foundation of international security and prosperity for generations.”
And she warned cadets to be wary of China because it is “modernizing its military and threatening both the freedom of the seas and rules of international commerce.”
“At the same time, autocrats have become bolder, the threat of terrorism persists, and an accelerating climate crisis continues to disrupt lives and livelihood,” Harris said.
Harris touched on the importance of having institutions reflect the diversity of the broader United States.
“Our military is strongest when it reflects the people of America,” she said.
When the graduating cadets first arrived at West Point in 2019, 23 percent were women. The class was 71% Caucasian, 15% Black, 12% Hispanic and 8% Asian.
West Point dates to 1802. Since then, the college has educated many future military leaders including Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Gen. George Patton and Presidents Ulysses S. Grant and Dwight D. Eisenhower. 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, and Gen. James C. McConville, the Army chief of staff.
Upon graduation, the cadets were commissioned as Army second lieutenants.
“To the Class of 2023: You join the greatest fighting force the world has ever seen,” Harris said. “And in years to come, I promise you, you will be tried, and you will be tested.”
“And I am so very confident that you will rise to each occasion. Whatever comes your way. You are ready. And you are ready because you are true leaders of character.”
— Army Times staff contributed to this report.