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'Service over self': Biden tells Air Force graduates they have privilege of leading confusing world

Biden is the ninth sitting president to speak at the academy's graduation ceremony.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — President Joe Biden delivered the commencement address at the U.S. Air Force Academy's (USAFA) graduation ceremony Thursday. 

Biden thanked U.S. Air Force Academy graduates for choosing “service over self” but said they now have the “great privilege” of leading in a world that will only get more confusing in the years to come.

“Graduates, you made a noble choice to lead a life of service,” Biden told more than 900 cadets in remarks on the sun-splashed field at Falcon Stadium in Colorado. “Now you also shoulder a great privilege and a mighty responsibility. Leadership, yeah leadership.”

“In the years ahead, your airmen and guardians are going to look to you for guidance and inspiration because the world is going to get more confusing," he added. “They'll put their trust in you. You, in turn, must strive to always be worthy of their confidence.”

Biden took a fall during the U.S. Air Force Academy graduation ceremony, where he earlier delivered a commencement address. 

Moments after handing out the last diploma to the Air Force cadets, Biden appeared to have slipped on a black sandbag on the stage and fell onto his knees. The 80-year-old president was quickly aided by Air Force officials and members of the Secret Service.

Biden also spoke about foreign policy, specifically the U.S. had rallied Western nations to stand behind Ukraine against Russia and efforts to enhance deterrence in the Indo-Pacific region. 

He also assured that Sweeden becoming a NATO country “will happen. I promise you.” 

Sweden and Finland sought NATO membership after Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Turkey, already a NATO member country, blocked both countries from joining the military alliance before agreeing to membership for Finland while continuing to object to Sweden.

Credit: AP
Air Force Cadets toss their caps in the air as the Thunderbirds fly overhead during the United States Air Force Academy graduation ceremony, Thursday, June 1, 2023, at Air force Academy, Colo. (AP Photo/John Leyba)

The academy graduates will become second lieutenants in either the Air Force or Space Force. Biden said they made up the most diverse graduating class in the academy's history and he called on them to “root out the scourge of sexual assault and harassment in the military.”  

Biden also said they will need the qualities of resilience, creativity, endurance and commitment that they learned during four years of training at the academy — learning that was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic — to deal with a range of global challenges. He said the challenges ranged from Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and America’s rivalry with China “to a whole hell of a lot in between.”

He also cited the threat of climate change and the growing use of artificial intelligence.

“Never forget the sacred oath you swear, and the mission you serve is something far, far greater than any person or president,” Biden said. “It’s our Constitution, it’s our country and it’s our enduring American values.”

After speaking, Biden participated in the presentation of diplomas, exchanging salutes and handshakes with each graduate as they were called to the stage and their loved ones cheered from the stands.

The ceremony was held at Falcon Stadium. The United States Air Force Thunderbirds demonstration team will again fly over the ceremony.

A total of 919 men and women graduated from the academy Thursday.

It was Biden's third time speaking at an Air Force Academy graduation, but his first as president. He spoke twice while vice president, in 2009 and 2014, according to the Air Force Times.

He announced he would be giving the address on April 28 while presenting the Air Force Falcons football team with the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy for beating their rival service academies.

He is the ninth sitting president to speak at the USAFA graduation.

As president, Biden has given commencement remarks at the U.S. Naval Academy, the Coast Guard Academy, South Carolina State University and his alma mater, the University of Delaware.



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