NEW YORK (AP) — Vice President Kamala Harris, the first woman to deliver a commencement speech at West Point, lauded graduating cadets Saturday for their noble sacrifice in serving their country, but noted they were entering an “unsettled world” because of Russian aggression and the rising threats from China.
“The world has drastically changed,” Harris told the roughly 950 graduating cadets. She referred to the global pandemic that took millions of lives, as well as the fraught shifts in global politics in Europe and in Asia.
“It is clear you graduate into an increasingly unsettled world where longstanding principles are at risk,” she said.
As the U.S. ended two decades of war in Afghanistan, the longest in the country’s history, the vice president said, Russia soon launched the first major ground war in Europe since World War II when it invaded Ukraine.
“At the same time, autocrats have become bolder, the threat of terrorism persists, and an accelerating climate crisis continues to disrupt lives and livelihoods,” she added.
She advised cadets to be wary of China, as it rapidly modernizes its military and muscles for control over parts of the high seas, ostensibly referring to the brewing disputes over the South China Sea.
She spoke about the country’s military might and its need to innovate, including the adoption of new technology to change how wars are fought — even using artificial intelligence to predict enemy movements and to guide autonomous vehicles.
Harris made no mention about the ongoing skirmishing in Washington, where the White House and congressional Republicans are trying to avert a debt crisis.
Harris’ visit is her first to the U.S. Army academy. Commencement speakers at the country’s military academies are usually delivered by the president, vice president or high-ranking military official — which until Harris’ election meant speakers have always been men.
Harris was joined at the commencement by Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth, who in 2021 became the first woman to hold the military service’s top civilian post.
Harris, the first woman to serve as the country’s vice president, noted the 75th anniversary of 1948′s Women’s Armed Services Integration Act, which gave women the right to serve as permanent members of the military. It was also 75 years ago when President Harry S. Truman signed an executive order banning segregation in the Armed Forces.
However, her address was delivered to an institution that has made slow progress diversifying its ranks in the four decades since the first class of female cadets graduated.
Today, about one quarter of the student body are women. Only a few dozen graduates each year are Black women, like Harris, though the number has ticked up in recent years. The academy didn’t admit women until 1976 and had its first female graduates in 1980.
Upon graduation, the cadets will be commissioned as Army second lieutenants.
West Point dates to 1802. Since then, the college has educated future military leaders including Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Gen. George Patton and Presidents Ulysses S. Grant and Dwight D. Eisenhower.
While Harris visited West Point, about 60 miles (96 kilometers) north of Manhattan, President Joe Biden heads to Colorado Springs, Colorado, on Thursday to address graduates at the U.S. Air Force Academy.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III addressed the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, on Friday.
Last year, Harris addressed graduates at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut.