President Obama's remarks at U.S. Naval Academy

By Barack Obama, RealClearPolitics - May 26, 2009

Thank you so much. Thank you. Thank you very much. Please, be seated. Governor O'Malley, thank you for your generous introduction and for your leadership here in Maryland. Vice Admiral Fowler and faculty, distinguished guests, parents, family and friends, the Brigade of Midshipmen -- (applause) -- and most importantly, the graduates of the Class of 2009. (Applause.) Seven hundred and fifty-six Navy and, I am told, the largest number of Marines in Naval Academy history. (Applause.)

Now, I know it's customary at graduation for guests to bring a gift. And I have. All midshipmen on restriction for minor conduct offenses are hereby officially absolved. (Applause.) I did say "minor." (Laughter.)

Midshipmen, I'm told that the extra ribbon on your chest is for the honor you earned, for only the second time in the storied history of the Naval Academy -- the Navy's Meritorious Unit Commendation Award. So I've consulted with Admiral Fowler, and I can make this announcement: For all you midshipmen returning next fall, I hereby grant you something extra -- an extra weekend. (Applause.) I should stop now. (Laughter.)

I am extraordinarily honored to be with you today. Because of all the privileges of serving as President, I have no greater honor than serving as your Commander-in-Chief.

Every day I count on Naval Academy graduates like Admiral Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; the CNO, Admiral Gary Roughead; and my Director of National Intelligence, Admiral Dennis Blair. I'll also be counting on Ray Mabus, a former surface warfare officer, as our new Secretary of the Navy.

Every day I rely on former sailors and Marines on my staff, young men who served as intelligence officers in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the 32nd Commandant of the Marine Corps, Supreme Allied Commander and now my National Security Advisor, General Jim Jones.

I've admired your prowess on the football field. (Applause.) At the White House last month, I was proud to present the team and Coach Ken with the Commander-in-Chief Trophy, which you won for the sixth straight time. (Applause.) And I know you beat Army seven straight times. (Laughter.)

But most of all, most of all I've admired the spirit of your service, because it's not the strength of our arms or the power of our technology that gives the United States our military dominance -- it's our people. It's our sailors and Marines, soldiers and airmen and Coast Guardsmen who perform brilliantly in every mission we give them.

And Class of 2009, today is your day. It's your day to reflect on all you've achieved -- or should I say, all that you endured: the madness of "I Day" that began your transformation from civilians to sailors and Marines; that endless Plebe Summer when you were pushed to new levels, new heights, physically, mentally, morally. And speaking of new heights, I'm told that one of your proudest achievements still stands -- one of the fastest times for the Herndon climb. Congratulations on that. (Applause.)

And families, today is your day, too. It's the latest in a line of proud firsts: the first time you saw your son or daughter with that Navy haircut, that first time you saw them in their summer whites, and today the first time you'll see them as officers.

So to all of you moms and dads, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, grandmas and grandpas, and all the local sponsor families who opened your homes to these midshipmen -— thank you for your support and for your patriotism. We are grateful. (Applause.)

This class is about to become the latest link in a long, unbroken chain of heroism and victory -- a chain forged in battles whose names are etched in the stone of this stadium: from Coral Sea to Midway to Guadalcanal; from Iwo Jima to Inchon; from the Mekong Delta to Desert Storm. For some among us, these are not just places on a map. They're the stories of their lives. And we honor all of our veterans here today. (Applause.)

This chain of service calls to mind words that were spoken here in Annapolis on another spring day a century ago. The crowds assembled, the bands played, the cannons roared. As John Paul Jones' body was carried to the Yard, President Teddy Roosevelt spoke to the midshipmen gathered there that day.

"Remember," he said, "our words of admiration are but as sounding brass and tinkling symbols if we do not... prepare to emulate their deeds."

Emulate their deeds. That is what you are called upon to do. And in doing so these past four years, you've not only given meaning to your own lives, you serve as a reminder and a challenge to your fellow Americans to fulfill the true meaning of citizenship.

America, look at these young men and women. Look at these sailors and Marines. Here are the values that we cherish. Here are the ideals that endure. In an era when too few citizens answer the call to service, to community or to country, these Americans choose to serve. They did so in a time of war, knowing they might be called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice.

Indeed, as we near Memorial Day, we pay tribute to all those who have given their lives so that we might live free, including those aboard that Navy helicopter who were lost this week in the waters off California. We send our prayers to their families and to all who loved them.

In a culture where so many chase the outward markers of success that can so often lead us astray -- the titles and status, the materialism and money, the fame and popularity -- these Americans have embraced the virtues that we need most right now: self-discipline over self-interest; work over comfort; and character over celebrity.

After an era when so many institutions and individuals acted with such greed and recklessness, it's no wonder that our military remains the most trusted institution in our nation. (Applause.) And in a world when so many forces and voices seek to divide us, it inspires us that this class came together and succeeded together, from every state and every corner of the world. By building an institution that's more diverse than ever -- more women, more Hispanics, more African Americans -- the Naval Academy has reaffirmed a fundamental American truth: that out of many, we are one. (Applause.)

We see these values in every one of these sailors and Marines, including those who have already served their country -- the dozens among you with prior enlisted service.

It's the perseverance of Elvin Vasquez, a Marine supply chief in Iraq -- (applause) -- who finally got into the Naval Academy on his third try -- (applause) -- who never gave up trying because he says, "there's just something about being a Marine."

It's the example of Carlos Carbello -- (applause) -- who left the tough streets of L.A. to serve on a destroyer in the Pacific and who has used his time here to mentor others, because he's the oldest midshipman -- the old man -- at the age of 26. (Applause.)

It's the patriotism of Sade Holder -- (applause) -- who came to America as a child from Trinidad, enlisted in the Navy and then earned the titles she values most: "U.S. citizen" and "Navy Midshipman" and today, "Ensign." (Applause.)

And it's the reverence for tradition shown by James P. Heg -- (applause) -- a communications -- a communications maintenance Marine in Iraq who today is joined by the man who first urged him to sign up, his grandfather, returning six decades after he was a midshipman, a submariner from World War II, 89-year-old Captain James E. Heg. (Applause.)

Honor. Courage. Commitment. These are the values that have defined your years in the Yard and that you'll need in the years ahead as you join the fleet, and as you join and lead the Marines, as you confront the ever-changing threats of an ever-changing world.

For history teaches us that the nations that grow comfortable with the old ways and complacent in the face of new threats, those nations do not long endure. And in the 21st century, we do not have the luxury of deciding which challenges to prepare for and which to ignore. We must overcome the full spectrum of threats -- the conventional and the unconventional; the nation-state and the terrorist network; the spread of deadly technologies and the spread of hateful ideologies; 18th century-style piracy and 21st century cyber threats.

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