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Remarks by Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III at the United States Naval Academy Commencement (As Delivered)

Well, good morning, Class of 2024.

[Graduates respond, "Good morning, sir."]

Let's try that again.


Good morning, Class of 2024!

[Graduates respond loudly, "Good morning, sir!"]

Right. That's more like it.

Secretary Del Toro, Admiral Franchetti, and General Smith: thanks for your leadership of the Navy and the Marine Corps.

It's great to see so many distinguished guests, ambassadors, public officials, including Governor Wes Moore. And Governor, I'm glad that I'm not the only Army guy here today.


Let me also acknowledge a close friend and mentor of mine, Admiral Mike Mullen of the Class of 1968.


Admiral, congratulations on the naming of the future DDG 144 as USS Michael G. Mullen. Hooah!


Vice Admiral Davids, family, friends, Midshipmen, and above all, the Class of 2024: it is indeed.

[graduates respond] is indeed an honor to join you today.

And it's great to be back at this ceremony for my second year in a row. So this is starting to be a habit.


I'm just so happy that you were eager to bring back an old West Point guy.

[Laughter and shouts of, "Beat Army!"]

OK, I'm glad we got that out of the way.


And for anyone who thinks that the second installment can't be as good as the first— hey, just think of "Top Gun: Maverick."

[Laughter and applause]

Now, you should start getting used to some new titles.

So congratulations, Ensigns and Second Lieutenants!


Sounds pretty good, doesn't it?  I think so.

Today, we welcome these outstanding Sailors and Marines to the greatest Navy and Marine Corps on Earth — and the most powerful fighting force in history.


Now, I know that I'm standing between you and your first salutes. So I'm going to keep this pretty brief. Because I believe that a good commencement speaker should be tall —


— but a good commencement speech should be short.

[Laughter and applause]

You know, the Class of 2024 didn't have an easy road to get to this day.

During your plebe year, liberty was rare. And I'm told that you used some unconventional tactics to protest.


More specifically, you threw printers out of windows and off bridges.

[Laughter and applause]

And I understand that one intrepid member of this class even climbed up the Chapel Dome to put a printer on top.

[Laughter and applause]

Which is pretty impressive, considering how long it took the Class of 2024 to climb Herndon.

[Laughter, cheers, and applause]

Now, as a former service-academy cadet, I understand this sort of thing. Which brings me to an important piece of business.

To all Midshipmen still serving restrictions for minor infractions: you are hereby absolved.


You know, that never gets old.


I mentioned that this is my second consecutive year on the Yard. But for two guests with us today — Dan and Nancy Martineau—it's their third.


Dan served in the Marine Corps for 20 years. And Nancy is an Air Force veteran.


They are also the parents of Second Lieutenant Sean Martineau of the Naval Academy Class of 2022.


And of Ensign Thomas Martineau of the Class of 2023.


And of Christopher and Kelly, who will be commissioned today as Ensigns.


Now, that is an outstanding military family.

And so is every other family here today.

You know, you can feel the pride in these Sailors and Marines. And that's because of the thousands of loved ones and sponsors that are here today.

So graduates, their values guided you. Their encouragement fueled you. And their love sustained you.

So your day is also their day.

So Class of 2024: please stand up, face your families, and give them a round of applause!

[Applause and cheers]

OK, take your seats.

[Graduates respond]

This is a great day, and a proud day. But it's also a day of reflection and remembrance.

And I know that two of your own are no longer with us. So I would ask that we take a moment to remember Midshipman Luke Bird and Midshipman Mason Halsey.

We are all deeply grateful that the Bird and Halsey families are here with us today.

Now, I want to say a few words about the challenges facing America's newest Lieutenants and Ensigns.

You have lived by your class motto: "From Adversity, Victory." And during a once-in-a-generation pandemic, that's exactly what you showed.

For weeks, you could rarely leave your rooms. So you bonded with your teammates over Google Meet.

And your classes were rough as well. You still passed Plebe Chemistry — eventually.


And I know that you were "shotgunned" into new companies to start your Youngster year.

And I hope that you'll see your years here as a long lesson in grit, adaptability, and discipline. You put in the reps and sets to succeed as a team and grow as teammates. And that's exactly what we'll continue to expect of you—today and every day.

The United States has the most capable Navy and Marine Corps in the world.

And make no mistake.

We're going to keep it that way.

And you are going to keep it that way.


You know, last year, I told the Class of 2023 [graduates respond] that they would learn that "the lifeblood of the rules-based international order is actually seawater."

And over the past year, we've seen how important your mission is.

Sea power is a beacon projecting American power and American principle to the world.

Our allies and partners depend on it. Our foes and rivals envy it.

And so today, from the South China Sea to the Red Sea, we're seeing new challenges to the open world of rules, rights, and responsibilities built with American leadership after World War II.

And in times like these, freedom of navigation rides on the bow waves of U.S. Navy ships.

As officers, you will help us increase American security and model American values worldwide. Our Sailors and Marines let the U.S. military project power anywhere on Earth.

And so we're depending on you to secure the world's sea lanes for the free flow of ships, commerce, and ideas.

We're depending on you to sail, fly, and operate wherever international law allows.

We're depending on you to deepen old alliances and forge new friendships.

And we're depending on you to deter conflict and to keep the peace.

As Admiral Arleigh Burke said back in 1961, U.S. Navy officers must "understand not only how to fight a war, but how to use the tremendous power which they operate to sustain a world of liberty and justice."

That's your mission.

And you will be tested.

Just ask last year's graduates.

Two members of the Class of 2023 have asked me to pass along a message today.

Those Ensigns were aboard the USS Carney. And they helped defend freedom of navigation in the Red Sea. They helped those in distress at sea. They helped degrade the capabilities of the Iranian-backed Houthi militia. And they helped shoot down missiles and UAVs.

In fact, the Carney conducted 51 engagements in six months, which is the most direct Navy engagement with a foe since World War II.


And the message of those Ensigns on the Carney to the Class of 2024 is this: You are ready.

Believe it.

You are ready because, as one of those Ensigns put it, "The Academy is the ultimate team-building exercise."

And what comes next is not a drill.

You will lead Sailors and Marines through tension and uncertainty. Your teammates will look to you for leadership. For grace under pressure. For calm under fire.

And you will be ready.

Ensigns and Lieutenants, long after you leave the Yard, you'll steer by the values that you learned on the Yard. And those values will be your North Star.

You'll uphold your convictions with courage. Hold yourself accountable. Treat others with dignity and respect. And defend our democracy and our Constitution with honor, courage, and commitment.

Because leadership isn't just about what you do.

It's about who you are.

Now, I know that today marks a milestone after years of formal education. But as Sailors and Marines, your education is just beginning.

You know, Admiral Nimitz was once talking to a young Marine. And the Admiral said, "Today is a very special day for me because it was just 63 years ago that I entered the Naval Academy."

And the Marine said, "Well, Admiral, do you think you'll make a career of it?"


And Admiral Nimitz replied, "Yes, I think I shall."

And the Admiral added, "I'm still learning every day. I'm still trying to do my best."

And so that's what we'll ask of you as well. Don't think that your education is anywhere close to being over.

And I hope that you'll commit yourselves today to lifelong learning.

You'll learn from your peers. From your leaders. From your Sailors and Marines. From the allies and partners you'll serve alongside.

And you'll need to keep learning and growing — because your mission will only get more complex.

And Ensigns and Lieutenants, your character, judgment, and integrity, and courage will let you play a central role in the next chapter of American history.

So we are counting on you.

We know that you'll all make us proud.

We know that you'll excel.

We know that you'll keep turning adversity into victory.

Congratulations, Class of 2024!


May God bless you and your families. May God bless our troops. And may God continue to bless the United States of America.