By Lisa Daniel
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON – Vice President Joe Biden yesterday paid tribute to military families at a high school graduation ceremony in Virginia Beach, Va., where many students and staff are connected to the services.
At least 37 graduates of Tallwood High School’s 2012 graduating class plan to enlist, Biden said as he gave the commencement address.
“It’s great to be in a town that has such respect for our military and such great tradition, and such a wonderful group of graduates,” Biden said. He asked the graduates who have military family members to raise their hands and be recognized, then asked those in the audience to stand if they served in the military and served overseas. “We owe you,” he said as they stood, “we owe you.”
The vice president noted that more than 2.8 million Americans have served in the military since 9/11. More than half “have been in and out of Afghanistan and Iraq, many of them multiple times,” he said. “Your parents and siblings put their lives on the line for this country. And they were asked to do so much more than just fight.”
“You’re inheriting an incredible tradition, because they were asked to take on responsibilities beyond their base or battlefield,” he continued. “Young men and women that I have witnessed more than two dozen times, steeped in military doctrine, have had to master the intricacies of tribal politics, deal with issues ranging from lack of electricity to unemployment, to currency exchange to taxation.”
Biden saluted the “remarkable, remarkable group of military men and women we have today -- the finest generation of warriors in the history of not only the United States, but the history of the world. So thank you all who have served. "
Biden also thanked the families of those who deployed for their service. He quoted the 17th century British poet, John Milton, who wrote, “They also serve who only stand and wait,” and noted his son Beau Biden’s year-long deployment to Iraq. “I watched the impact on my grandchildren -- the games missed, the birthdays missed, the Christmases missed, the empty seat at Thanksgiving dinner,” he said.
“So from the bottom of my heart, on behalf of a grateful nation, I thank all of you who are the brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, spouses of those who have put themselves in harm’s way in the last decade and beyond,” the vice president said. “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
Biden told the graduates that the school, which houses a Global Studies and World Languages Academy, prepared them for more than “just mastering their studies.” One thing the students learned, he said, “is that in order for this nation to lead the world and you to be leaders in the world, you have to understand the world. You have to participate in the world.”
Biden said he was impressed that 76 graduates took part in the academy, and learned to speak at least one foreign language. “You’ve had a chance to put those language skills to the test by video-conferencing with others halfway around the world,” he said. “And I guarantee you most of you will have a chance to put it to the test on the foreign soil of the language you’ve mastered. We will need you there.”
The graduates studied global governments and cultures, people and their backgrounds, and learned to respect different viewpoints, Biden said. “Most of all, you’ve gained perspective, whether it’s in the service of your family or in participating in a program. And that matters,” he said.
“No one can tell you how small the world has become better than those who raised their hands a few moments ago who served abroad,” Biden said. “As this world of ours continues to shrink, what happens in a remote province in Pakistan, Nigeria, Brazil, is known around the world in a matter of minutes.”
Biden said he had simple advice for the graduates: Think big and imagine. Their greatest challenge, he said, will be in learning how to deploy emerging technologies wisely.
“Deploying it wisely means infusing technology with our oldest values -- values that you have learned here,” he said. “The values of tolerance, respect, understanding. These are not some obsolete, old notions that don’t matter anymore. The more advanced and shrunk the world becomes, the more critical those values become. They mean more than ever.”
The vice president said he is confident in the graduates’ abilities to meet U.S. and global challenges head on.
“I am absolutely confident in your ability to meet the challenges I have laid out head on, and to bend them -- to bend them -- to your will in your and our moral precepts,” he said. “I’m confident of that because of where you come from, how you were raised, what you learned at this fine school, but most of all because who you are.”