Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III told the graduating class of the U.S. Naval Academy today that their experience as midshipmen has prepared them to lead in the fleet and carry the torch of U.S. sea power at a critical time for democracy around the globe.
After adapting to the challenges of a global pandemic as plebes and returning to face the daily rigors of the storied academy, Austin told the newly minted Navy and Marine Corps officers that they should have no doubt that they're ready for the next step.
"Ensigns, lieutenants, let's be clear: You are ready," Austin said. "And that's not just because you'll have a commission the next time that you walk off the Yard. It's because of each time that you walked onto the Yard, you chose to come to this academy."
Founded in 1845, the U.S. Naval Academy's historic Yard in Annapolis, Maryland, has served as a proving ground for generations of Navy and Marine Corps officers who have laid the foundation for what Austin said is "the finest Navy that the world has ever known."
About 90,000 midshipmen, including the Class of 2023, have graduated from the academy since its founding. That figure includes more than 6,400 women who have graduated since 1980.
This year's class includes 1,018 graduates. Of those, 744 were commissioned as Navy ensigns and 257 as Marine Corps 2nd lieutenants.
"Graduates, over the years, I've learned that leadership is not just what you do, it's who you are," Austin, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, said as he recalled serving alongside U.S. Naval Academy graduates.
He said Navy officers harbor a special understanding of "the power of teamwork" needed to unite sailors of all walks of life to keep the ship afloat and accomplish the mission.
"That's the spirit that makes American sea power so formidable," he said. "And we need that spirit for the crucial mission that you're all here to shoulder."
Austin said the class of 2023 will lead the next generation of sailors and Marines at a critical time as the U.S. endeavors to "forge a more open, more peaceful 21st century."
"Our competitors openly challenge that vision," he said. "They want to replace the hard-won, postwar system of rules and rights with a lawless world of autocracy and aggression. But the American flag atop a U.S. Navy ship has long been the symbol of hope for a more free and secure world."
"So, graduates, you will deploy forward," he said. "You will travel the globe to defend our democracy. And you will learn that the lifeblood of the rules-based international order is actually seawater. That's a big job, but you're up to it."