At Naval Academy Graduation, Harris to Focus on Strengthening a ‘Fragile’ World

WASHINGTON — Vice President Kamala Harris will mark another first for women on Friday when she addresses the graduating class of the United States Naval Academy, becoming the first female commencement speaker in the school’s nearly 175-year history.

The vice president’s speech is expected to focus on some of the Biden administration’s most urgent challenges, like the coronavirus pandemic, climate change and a host of increasingly sophisticated cybersecurity threats.

“The global pandemic has launched us into a new era. It has forever impacted our world,” Ms. Harris is expected to say, according to prepared remarks shared with The New York Times. “If we weren’t clear before, we know now: Our world is interconnected. Our world is interdependent. Our world is fragile.”

The vice president’s speech at the Naval Academy, in Annapolis, Md., will be her first to focus on the military, and it comes as the Biden administration is accelerating its withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, well ahead of the deadline President Biden set in April: Sept. 11.

Ms. Harris has said that she was the last person in the room before the president made the decision to pull troops from the country, nearly two decades after they were first deployed.

Presidents and vice presidents deliver commencement speeches to the different service academies on a rotating basis, and Ms. Harris is the first to return to the Naval Academy since President Donald J. Trump took the stage in 2018 and declared that, after his election, the United States was “respected again.”

While Mr. Trump was focused on the military earning the respect and fear of its global adversaries — he told the graduates in 2018 that the military was “the most powerful and rightful force on the planet” — the current administration has emphasized what Mr. Biden has said repeatedly: that he believes that democracy is reaching an inflection point.

“No class gets to choose the world into which he graduates,” Mr. Biden told a class of Coast Guard graduates this month. “The challenges you’re going to face in your career are going to look very different than those who walked these halls before.”

Ms. Harris, the first woman and person of color to be vice president, will not be the only one on Friday to have made history at the Naval Academy. Among the graduates at the socially distanced commencement ceremony will be Midshipman First Class Sydney Barber, the first Black woman in the academy’s history to serve as brigade commander.

Midshipman Barber, of Lake Forest, Ill., wears a distinctive set of six stripes on her uniform and has been responsible for much of the brigade’s daily activities, as well as for the professional training of other midshipmen.

A pair of Midshipman Barber’s shoulder boards are on display in Ms. Harris’s ceremonial office, according to a senior aide to the vice president. Ms. Harris and the midshipman spoke recently on a private Zoom call and complimented each other on being the first Black women in their respective roles.

“You may be the first to do many things,” Ms. Harris told the midshipman, according to an aide who recounted their conversation. “But make sure you’re not the last.”

It has been only 46 years since women were given permission to enroll in the service academies, and Midshipman Barber is the 16th woman to have served as brigade commander. The first was Midshipman Juliane Gallina, who led the brigade in fall 1991, when women were still prohibited from flying warplanes or serving on warships at sea. School records show that Ms. Gallina retired from the Navy as a commander.

John Ismay contributed reporting.

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