Vice President Kamala Harris made history once again on Friday as the first woman to deliver the keynote commencement address at the U.S. Naval Academy, telling graduates the country faces a “significant turning point.”
“Midshipmen, we are now entering the next era. A new age. A new epoch, with its own challenges, and with its own opportunities,” Harris began, speaking at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Maryland.
“The global pandemic, you see, of course, has accelerated our world into a new era,” she said. “If we weren’t clear before, we know now: Our world is interconnected. Our world is interdependent. Our world is fragile.”
In her nearly 20-minute speech, Harris addressed challenges facing the nation and its service members, citing cybersecurity threats and climate change, as well as COVID-19.
“A deadly pandemic can spread throughout the globe in just a matter of months. A gang of hackers can disrupt the fuel supply of a whole seaboard. One country’s carbon emissions can threaten the sustainability of the whole Earth,” she said.
“The challenge before us now is how to mount a modern defense to these modern threats,” she continued.
A day after Microsoft said Russian hackers had again targeted a U.S. government agency, Harris referred to the recent Colonial Pipeline cyberattack as an example of new threats ahead.
“The ransomware attack by criminal hackers earlier this month — well, that was a warning shot,” she said. “In fact, there have been many warning shots. So we must defend our nation against these threats.”
It has been only 46 years since Congress required service academies to admit women in their ranks — and Harris took the opportunity to highlight the growing number of female officers even as she tied that to the Biden agenda.
“Just ask any Marine today, would she rather carry 20 pounds of batteries or solar panels, and I am positive, she will tell you a solar panel — and so would he,” she said to applause.
Harris, the first Black woman to be elected vice president, gave a shoutout to a new midshipman making history of her own — the first Black woman in the school’s almost 175-year history to serve as brigade commander, who oversaw roughly 4,000 students this year.
“My ceremonial office was once occupied by the Secretary of the Navy, and displayed there, I have placed the shoulder boards of your brigade commander, Midshipman Sydney Barber,” Harris said to roaring applause.
Harris concluded by sharing that she stopped by the United States Naval Academy Cemetery ahead of her speech to pay respects to her former colleague in the Senate — “a great and courageous American” — GOP Sen. John McCain.
“Most people don’t know, he wanted to be buried next to his best friend, who he met on the yard, Admiral Chuck Larsen. That is the ultimate example of what I mean, in it together,” she said.
“You are the next links in the chain,” she said.
Presidents and vice presidents deliver graduation speeches at the nation’s five military service academies each year on a rotating basis.
President Joe Biden delivered the commencement address at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy last week, telling graduates to “go out and be the future.”
Biden spoke at the U.S. Naval Academy in 2015, as did former President Donald Trump in 2018, when he said, “We are not going to apologize for America.”
After holding its first-ever virtual ceremony for the first time last year due to the pandemic, the academy brought back the Blue Angels flyover tradition to kick off the socially distanced event — timed with the unofficial start of summer.
ABC News’ Ben Gittleson contributed to this report.