By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
DoD News, Defense Media Activity
WASHINGTON, May 22, 2015 – As he addressed the U.S. Naval Academy’s graduating class today in Annapolis, Maryland, Vice President Joe Biden expressed pride in the midshipmen as they prepare to join a 170-year legacy of excellence.
Before delivering his remarks, the vice president honored Navy Midshipman Justin Zemser who was among eight people killed in an Amtrak train derailment last week.
“Justin was a top student,” Biden said, “[and] a gifted athlete remembered as a young man of quiet strength and a man of his word.”
Zemser “would have made a great Navy Seal,” the vice president said. “He will be missed and my heart goes out to his family.”
Biden lauded the “outstanding” midshipmen for choosing a more challenging path as they graduate from the Naval Academy.
“Class of 2015, you were among the most promising high school students on the planet,” he said. “No one would have blamed you for choosing an easier path, but you chose service.
“You chose honor,” Biden continued. “You chose to join the real one percent that protects the 99 percent of the rest of us here in America and we owe you. We’re proud of you.”
The midshipmen, he said, join “one of the most venerated military and academic institutions on the entire Earth.”
“In the time since you reported on a Friday four years ago, you’ve earned your place,” Biden told the midshipmen, as he highlighted some of their accomplishments, including over 26,000 hours of community service, over 2,000 new registered bone marrow donors, and more than 60,000 pounds of food donated to those in need.
“And you excelled in the classroom,” the vice president said. “You didn’t just win the annual cyber exercise. You became the first graduating class in any school in the United States of America to ever have had every student complete the comprehensive cybersecurity curriculum.”
Biden added, “You’re about to become a part of the long continuum of naval and Marine officers, who graduated from this incredible institution -- a legacy which goes back 170 years.”
‘How You Navigate the Storm’
The vice president emphasized that the path the graduates chose “is not for everyone” and implored each to demand respect and dignity for all service members.
Life as a commissioned officer is “not an easy ride,” Biden said.
“It will require much, but it will reward much,” he said. “As you know, the true measure of an officer is not only how you sail in calm waters, but how you navigate the storm.”
Biden added, “We, your fellow Americans, expect a great deal from you -- not just your physical courage, but your moral courage as well, which at times can be even harder to muster.”
As officers in the U.S. military “you must demand that every one of your fellow sailors and Marines is afforded the dignity [and] respect that they deserve no matter race, gender, faith or sexual orientation,” Biden told the midshipmen.
Biden also told the midshipmen they will be counted on to “refuse to tolerate” sexual harassment and sexual assault in any form under any circumstances as a “matter of honor.”
Forward-Deployed Face of America
Looking to the future, Biden said each of the future Navy and Marine officers will be looked upon as “the forward deployed face of America, projecting power to every corner of the world.”
The vice president also quoted former President Theodore Roosevelt, noting, “‘A good Navy is not a provocation to war. It’s the surest guarantee of peace.’”
There are “new fault lines,” Biden said. “These new fault lines will continue to divide the great powers, and they reside in the straits and the sea lanes that you will come to know so well.”
Tensions may sometimes run high, Biden said, but “you will be there to keep the peace.”
Rebalance to the Pacific
The U.S. is rebalancing toward the “vast potential” of the Asia-Pacific region, Biden said.
“But we can’t succeed if you don’t show up -- that’s why 60 percent of the United States naval forces will be stationed in the Pacific by 2020,” the vice president said.
Biden said peace and prosperity in the Pacific region has depended -- and will continue to depend -- on U.S. naval power just as it has for the past 60 years.
“You are a force for peace and security,” Biden told the midshipmen. “We’ve used your power to reinforce and update the international rules and cooperation that benefit all nations -- to manage the emerging challenges of the century ahead -- before they devolve into conflict.
“We’re going to look to you to uphold these principles wherever they are challenged,” he continued, “[and] to strengthen our growing security partnerships and make good on our unshakeable commitment to the neutral defense of our allies.”
Rise to the Moment
The vice president urged the midshipmen not to forget their time at the U.S. Naval Academy.
“Remember all you’ve learned -- all you’ve felt, all you breathed here at the Naval Academy,” Biden said. “You will rise [to] the moment, and know one thing for sure -- you are not alone.”
The midshipmen “will never, ever be alone,” the vice president said.
“You will be surrounded by a family that raised you," he said, "and a family that made you an officer in the finest military in the history of the world, without exception.”