- In the speech, she discussed themes of global security and prosperity, noting that America’s democratic ideals “inspire billions.”
Vice President Kamala Devi Harris made history today by becoming the first woman to deliver a commencement address at the graduation ceremony at the United State Military Academy in West Point, New York. In her speech, she discussed themes of global security and prosperity, noting that America’s democratic ideals “inspire billions,” as reported by CNN.
“The graduates were at an increasingly unsettled world where long-standing principles are at risk,” she warned. “In the face of all these challenges, America plays a singular role of leadership,” the vice president told the class of 2023. “Cadets, global security and global prosperity depend on the leadership of the United States of America. And a strong America remains indispensable to the world.”
“To the Class of 2023: You join the greatest fighting force the world has ever seen,” Harris said. “And in years to come, I promise you, you will be tried, and you will be tested.” She further noted that she’s “very confident” that the graduating class will “rise to each occasion. Whatever comes your way. You are ready. And you are ready because you are true leaders of character.”
Last year, Harris gave the commencement address to U.S. Coast Guard Academy graduates, and in 2021, she became the first female commencement speaker at the U.S. Naval Academy. President Biden, meanwhile, is set to speak at this year’s U.S. Air Force Academy graduation. Earlier this month, he spoke at Howard University’s commencement ceremony. As vice president, Biden delivered West Point’s commencement speech in 2016.
Responding to NPR’s question about why it has taken so long for a woman to serve as commencement speaker, a West Point spokesperson said, “the role usually rotates among senior leadership within the academy’s chain of command, which includes the president, vice president, secretary of defense and the chairman of the joint chiefs.” Those positions have been historically held by men. Although NPR notes that “Kathleen Hicks, who became the first female deputy defense secretary in 2021, has not yet spoken at the school’s commencement.”
Women weren’t allowed to enroll at West Point until 1976, the NPR report said — “a year after Congress passed legislation that allowed women to enroll at the federal service academies.” In 1980, Andrea Hollen became the first of 62 pioneering women to graduate from West Point. Since then, more than 5,000 women have graduated from the military academy.”
It is unclear how many Indian Americans or South Asian Americans were in this year’s graduating class. In 2020, Anmol Narang became the first observant Sikh woman to graduate from West Point, although she’s not the first Sikh cadet to graduate from there.
In 2016, U.S. Army Captain (CPT) Simratpal Singh filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Army for his right to maintain his articles of faith in uniform. The Sikh Coalition says that this lawsuit bought “a critical change in the Army’s accommodations policy in 2017,” ensuring regions accommodations for Sikh soldiers would stay with them throughout their careers.
In 2020, the U.S. Air Force implemented a similarly updated policy. The Sikh Coalition says that since the Army and the Air Force changed their policies, “there are at least 60 observant Sikhs serving in those two branches of the military.” Meanwhile, it notes that “the work continues to ensure equality of opportunity for Sikhs in the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard.”