President Biden wished "fair winds and following seas" to the U.S. Naval Academy's class of 2022 Friday in Annapolis, setting the stage for the world the more than 1,200 midshipmen are entering as they graduate.
"Well, midshipmen — you made it! You made it!" the president began.
Mr. Biden has delivered the Naval Academy graduation speech on two other occasions, in 2010 and 2015, when he was vice president, but Friday marked the first time he gave the address as president. More than 20,000 people attended at the ceremony, including graduates, families, Naval leaders and members of Congress. The president joked about pranks the graduating class has pulled during their time at the academy, and kept the tradition of excusing minor infractions.
"Anyone wants to fess up to getting the printer out of the chapel dome, now's your moment. No one's gonna' admit it now, huh? OK. Because as your commander-in-chief, in keeping with longstanding tradition, I hereby absolve all those serving restrictions for minor infractions. You are absolved!" the president said, to cheers.
Taking a more serious tone, the president said the graduates are entering a world where Russian President Vladimir Putin is trying to "wipe out the culture and identity" of the Ukrainian people, by attacking schools, hospitals and museums "with no other purpose than to eliminate a culture."
"That's what you're graduating into," Mr. Biden said.
You're graduating into an inflection point...things are changing so rapidly that the next 10 years will be the decisive decade for this century. They're going to shape what our role looks like, the values that will guide it, not just for the immediate future, but for generations to come," the president said.
"You'll be representatives and defenders of our democracy," Mr. Biden told the class of 2022.
He also reminisced about the late Senator John McCain, a former Naval officer who is buried at the Naval Academy. He called McCain a man of "great principle and capacity."
"We disagreed politically on things," Mr. Biden said. "But being here, I can't help but think of John. And how the Naval Academy meant so much to him. He chose these grounds for his final resting place. John was an American hero who withstood torture, years of being held as a prisoner of war. And when he came home, he decided ... he wanted to continue to serve."
Mr. Biden said he hopes the graduates will keep in mind the example of McCain.
"I cannot promise you the way will be straight, or the sailing will be easy," the president said. "But I can promise you that you all have the tools needed to navigate any waters you encounter. This great academy has prepared you to face every challenge and overcome any obstacle. You are ready. My wish to you is fair winds and following seas, because I know you will remain always faithful."
Recent presidents have all addressed the Naval Academy's graduation ceremony. In 2018, former President Trump insisted the United States "has regained the respect that we used to have long ago abroad." In 2013, former President Obama urged graduates to use their "inner compass." In 2005, former President George W. Bush told graduates the U.S. was "winning the war on terror."
Mr. Biden's speech was the first of two addresses to graduating classes this weekend — he'll also deliver the commencement address at his alma mater, the University of Delaware, on Saturday morning. On Sunday, the president will travel to Uvalde, Texas, to meet with the families of victims and with community and religious leaders.
The president's address came as the nation mourns the loss of thoseafter a gunman opened fire on Robb Elementary School. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer has said the Senate will vote on gun reform legislation, but Congress is gone for a more than week-long Memorial Day recess, though a bipartisan group of senators said they would continue talking during the break.
"The president has long urged Congress to take action to fight gun violence, including by expanding background checks, and he supports Leader Schumer's plan to bring legislation forward," Jean-Pierre said during Friday's press briefing. "The Congress will clearly handle the mechanics of all of this."