Secretary of Defense Austin Encourages Naval Academy Graduates, Expresses Confidence

Secretary of Defense Austin Encourages Naval Academy Graduates, Expressing Confidence in Their Abilities
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III awards a diploma at the U.S. Naval Academy's Class of 2023 graduation ceremony in Annapolis, Md., May 26, 2023. © Chad McNeeley, DOD

During the graduation ceremony on May 26, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III commended the graduating class of the U.S. Naval Academy, stating that their time as midshipmen has equipped them to lead in the fleet and uphold U.S. sea power during a time of great significance for democracy worldwide. Despite the obstacles posed by the pandemic, the plebes persevered and Austin assured the new Navy and Marine Corps officers that they are fully prepared for the next phase of their careers.

“Ensigns, lieutenants, let’s be clear: You are ready,” Austin said. “And that’s not just because you’ll have a commission the next time that you walk off the Yard. It’s because of each time that you walked onto the Yard, you chose to come to this academy.”

“And despite challenges that nobody imagined, you chose to keep coming back and to keep pushing and to keep growing. … All those choices add up to character. And all those decisions add up to integrity. And all those deeds add up to leadership.”

Founded in 1845, the U.S. Naval Academy’s historic Yard in Annapolis, Maryland, has served as a proving ground for generations of Navy and Marine Corps officers who have laid the foundation for what Austin said is “the finest Navy that the world has ever known.”

Since its establishment, the academy has produced approximately 90,000 midshipmen, including the most recent Class of 2023. Interestingly, over 6,400 women have graduated from the academy since 1980. This year, the academy celebrated the graduation of 1,018 students, with 744 commissioned as Navy ensigns and 257 as Marine Corps 2nd lieutenants.

“Graduates, over the years, I’ve learned that leadership is not just what you do, it’s who you are,” Austin, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, said as he recalled serving alongside U.S. Naval Academy graduates.

According to him, Navy officers possess a unique comprehension of the importance of teamwork in bringing together sailors from diverse backgrounds to successfully operate the ship and achieve the mission.

“That’s the spirit that makes American sea power so formidable,” he said. “And we need that spirit for the crucial mission that you’re all here to shoulder.”

Austin said the class of 2023 will lead the next generation of sailors and Marines at a critical time as the U.S. endeavors to “forge a more open, more peaceful 21st century.”

“Our competitors openly challenge that vision,” he said. “They want to replace the hard-won, postwar system of rules and rights with a lawless world of autocracy and aggression. But the American flag atop a U.S. Navy ship has long been the symbol of hope for a more free and secure world.”

“So, graduates, you will deploy forward,” he said. “You will travel the globe to defend our democracy. And you will learn that the lifeblood of the rules-based international order is actually seawater. That’s a big job, but you’re up to it.”