U.S. Coast Guard Academy Commencement

U.S. Coast Guard Academy Commencement


The President:
Well, good afternoon, everyone. Distinguished guests, Governor
Malloy and Congressman Courtney, families, friends, and
most of all — well, let’s try it this way. Cadets, what class is this? Cadets:
Class of 2011! The President:
I just wanted to make sure. (applause) It is a great honor to be with
you as we commission the newest ensigns in the United
States Coast Guard. And, cadets, let me say — and I
know your families will agree — you all look fantastic. (laughter) Thank you, Secretary Napolitano,
for your introduction, but more importantly, your
outstanding leadership in keeping our homeland secure and
— along with Admiral Papp — keeping our Coast Guard strong. And to Admiral Burhoe and
Academy faculty and staff, thank you for building these
outstanding young men and women into “inspiring leaders of
character” who are “prepared to serve their country.” And, Admiral Burhoe, as you
prepare to retire in the coming days, I just want to thank
you and your wife, Betsy, for 34 years of distinguished
service to our country. We are grateful. (applause) I’d just say, by the way, he
looks a little younger retired. So — (laughter) — you don’t want him
roaming around the house. Make sure he’s doing something. (laughter) Although my understanding
is she’s not here today, I also want to acknowledge
your next superintendent — Admiral Sandra Stosz. She will become the first woman
ever to lead one of our nation’s military academies. (applause) That’s an incredible
tribute to her, but also a tribute to the
opportunities that the Coast Guard affords women of
talent and commitment, including the Class of 2011,
which has one of the largest numbers of women cadets in
the history of this Academy. But, cadets, today is your day. But it’s also a testament to
those who supported you every step of your journey. When you chose this
life of service, your families backed you up. When you thought you couldn’t
go on, they bucked you up. I suspect, when things got
a little tight in the money department, they coughed it up. (laughter) So, cadets, you are
here because of them, and I ask you in joining
me in honoring your remarkable families. (applause) I have to say, it is a
personal pleasure to be here, because since the
day I took office, the United States Coast Guard
has played a special role in my presidency and with my family. I’ve seen the Coast Guard’s
precision when some of you — the Class of 2011 —
marched in the parade during my inauguration. You looked pretty
good on that day, too. (laughter) It was a little colder
that day, if you recall. (laughter) I’ve seen your devotion to duty
— all along the Gulf Coast — when the Coast Guard, including
members of this class, worked day and
night, tirelessly, as you led the largest
environmental cleanup in our nation’s history. I’ve seen your pride, when I was
in, of all places, Afghanistan. I was in Bagram, thanking our
troops for their service. And I was giving a shout-out
to every service — Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines. And then, way in the
back of the crowd, a voice shouted out:
“and Coast Guard!” (laughter) There was no ocean in sight. (laughter and applause) Not a body of water
visible anywhere. (laughter) But the Coast Guard was
there, serving with honor, as you have in every major
conflict that our nation has ever fought. In fact, I see the
professionalism of the Coast Guard every day, in the officers
and enlisted personnel who serve with us at the White House. And they include
Admiral Stephen Rochon, who wore the uniform
for 36 years, then became the Chief
Usher at the White House, responsible for keeping us
running smooth, day in, day out. His grandson Patrick
is graduating today, and I’m told that Patrick’s
classmates have a bet on whether his grandfather can
still fit in his old uniform. (laughter) Well, Admiral Rochon is here. I want to thank him for his
outstanding service to our family and our nation. And by the way, the
uniform still fits, so we’re proud of him. (applause) I’d add that my wife, Michelle,
is inspired by the Coast Guard, as well. Last summer, Michelle had the
honor of becoming the first First Lady to sponsor a Coast
Guard cutter — the Stratton. And she was deeply moved by the
story of Dorothy Stratton and the SPARS that she
led in World War II. At the christening, Michelle
was also very relieved that the bottle actually broke. (laughter) And I know that she is so
grateful to be part of the life of that Coast Guard
cutter and its crew. Cadets, this is the heritage,
this is the tradition that you will carry forward. And I know that you will do so
with the same sense of purpose, the same sense of patriotism
that have defined your days at this Academy. You excelled physically,
especially that first Swab Summer. Your upper classmen — your
cadre — were kind enough to let you carry all those
heavy bags and logs — (laughter) — and rafts over your head
until your arms were numb. They treated you to the pleasure
of relentless questioning and memorization and recitations. And as a reward
for your endurance, they gave you the
gift of Sea Trials. (laughter) But you survived. You excelled intellectually. Among your ranks is Cadet
Melissa McCafferty. She is a recipient of
the Truman Scholarship, making the Coast Guard Academy
one of the only schools ever to win that prestigious scholarship
three years in a row — three years in a row. (applause) Where’s Melissa? Let me embarrass you
in front of everybody. (laughter) There you are, right over there. Congratulations. (applause) I’m also told that the Class of
2011 has earned the highest GPA of any class in the
history of this Academy. (applause) So these are not just
pretty faces here. (laughter) Well done. You’ve excelled professionally
— pulling together and succeeding together
during your training, serving in dozens of
countries on six continents, aboard cutters saving
lives on the high seas, joining maritime exercises
with our foreign partners, keeping illegal drugs from
reaching our streets. Through it all, you’ve
embraced “the liking for the sea and its lore.” That includes a liking and
respect for one another. You come from every
station in life, every corner of our
country, including my home state of Hawaii. In fact, I’m told that Cadet
Jennifer Proctor comes from my old high school —
Punahou in Honolulu. Where is she? Jennifer? Come on. (applause) Howzit? Right on. (applause) This Academy welcomes cadets
from all over the world, including two dedicated young
men in your class from the Marshall Islands and Romania. And I want to thank President
Zedkaia of the Marshall Islands, as well as King George Tupou
from Tonga, who is here. They are two of America’s
closest partners among the Pacific Island nations. Their citizens serve bravely
alongside our forces, including in Afghanistan. And we are very, very grateful. So thank you so much
for your presence. (applause) And cadets, you have
excelled ethically. “Who lives here reveres
Honor, honors Duty.” You know those words well. They set the highest standards
of conduct and integrity for all who pass through Chase Hall. Your presence here today — and
the new boards that your loved ones and mentors will place upon
your shoulders — signify that you have met these
highest of standards. Now, despite your
impressive achievements, I’m told that over these four
years you’ve also earned a reputation as a class
that always had to wait. (laughter) That includes waiting longer
than any other first-year class in Academy history for the
privileges that you had earned. I’ve kept you waiting as well. (laughter) So, in keeping with
longstanding tradition — (laughter) — I hereby absolve all
cadets serving restrictions for minor offenses. (applause) The Superintendent reminded
me that’s “minor” offenses. (laughter) So, cadets, today is a
celebration of your success. But it’s also a
day of expectation, because soon you will
report to flight school, sectors and shore commands, or
begin your sea duty aboard cutters. Your nation has great
expectations, as well. We’ve made an enormous
investment to build you into the leaders that you are. Yes, the Coast Guard may be
the smallest of our services, and you will be tasked with vast
responsibilities — protecting thousands of miles of coast,
securing hundreds of ports, patrolling millions
of miles of ocean. But I’m absolutely
confident that you will meet these obligations. For in you we see the same
spirit that has made your service “Always Ready” for
more than two centuries. In you we see the same courage
of the Coast Guardsmen who defended our young nation
when we didn’t have a Navy, who preserved our Union, who
fought back at Pearl Harbor, who landed our boats on
the beaches of Normandy, and who patrolled the
rivers of Vietnam. In you we see the readiness that
has made the Coast Guard one of our nation’s first responders —
leading the evacuation of lower Manhattan on 9/11, and often
being the very first Americans on the scene, from the
earthquake in Haiti to the oil spill in the Gulf. In you we see the same
compassion that has led Coast Guardsmen to pull stranded
Americans from the rooftops during Katrina, save desperate
migrants clinging to rafts in the Caribbean, and even today,
as the Coast Guard rescues Americans from the
surging Mississippi. And while we can never predict
what the future may hold, we know that the complex
missions asked of our Coast Guard have never
been more important. Around the world, we need you to
partner with other nations to secure their ports, protect the
vital shipping lanes of the Persian Gulf, combat piracy
off the Horn of Africa, and help train foreign
partners from the Americas to Africa to Asia. Here at home, we need you
to stop those smugglers, and protect our oceans, and
prevent terrorists from slipping deadly weapons into our ports. Indeed, every American can be
proud of our brave military and intelligence personnel who made
sure that the terrorist leader who attacked us on 9/11 will
never threaten America again. (applause) But the hard work of
protecting our country, the hard works goes on —
securing our homeland and guarding our shores. We will never waver in the
defense of this country that we love. None of these missions will be
easy and none are without risk. Etched among the headstones
of Arlington and in seaside memorials overlooking the oceans
are the names of Coast Guard men and women who have made
the ultimate sacrifice for our nation. This is the life — and
the risk — that you have chosen to accept. As your Commander-in-Chief,
I want you to know that your nation will do everything in
our power to help you succeed. That’s why we’re investing in
the new ships and national security cutters and
aircraft that you need to get the job done. It’s why we’re adding new
inspectors and investigators and support personnel to keep
pace with today’s missions. And because my wife, Michelle,
has met with so many Coast Guard spouses and children and heard
about the challenges that they face as military families,
we’ve made it a priority to improve Coast Guard
housing and childcare. We need to take care of your
families as well as they take care of you. Ultimately, though, it won’t
be the advanced technologies, the additional budget that
determines your success. It won’t be the cutters that you
command that give you the edge when the seas are swelling
and a life is on the line. Your lives in service will be
defined by something else, something inside of you —
invisible to the eye but obvious for all to see. The arc of your careers, like
the course of our country, will be shaped by the values
that have kept us strong for more than 200 years. You see, as Americans, we’ve
always fixed our eyes on the future, setting our sights on
what lies beyond the horizon. We haven’t always known
exactly how to get there. We haven’t always known
every shoal that lies ahead. But we are sure of
our destination, and so we’ve charted our
course toward that “more perfect union.” We haven’t always been the
biggest or strongest of nations. There have been moments in our
history when others have counted us out or predicted the
demise of our improbable American experiment. But what the naysayers and
doubters have never understood is that our American journey
has always been propelled by a spirit and strength
that sets us apart. Like any good crew, we welcome
the talents and skills of all people, no matter
where you come from, no matter what you look like. With every generation, we renew
our country with the drive and dynamism that says, here in
America, anything is possible. And when tough times inevitably
come — when war and economic hardship threaten to blow us off
course — we do what Americans have always done. We remember our moral compass,
that we are citizens with obligations to each other; that
we all have responsibilities; that we’re all in this together;
that we rise and fall as one — that we are the United
States of America. And so we pull together. We each do our part, knowing
that we have navigated rough seas before and we
will do so again. We Americans are an
optimistic people. We know that even the
darkest storms pass. We know that a brighter
day beckons; that, yes, tomorrow can be a better day. For through two centuries
of challenge and change, we have never lost sight of our
guiding stars — the liberty, the justice, the opportunity
that we seek for ourselves and the universal freedoms and
rights that we stand for around the world. So, cadets, if we remember this
— if you stay true to the lessons you’ve learned
here on the Thames, if we hold fast to what keeps us
strong and unique among nations, then I am confident that future
historians will look back on this moment and say that when
we faced the test of our time, we stood our watch. We did our duty. We continued our
American journey. And we passed our country,
safer and stronger, to the next generation. So, congratulations,
Class of 2011. Semper Paratus. And God bless the United
States of America. (applause)

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