United States Military Academy
West Point, New York
10:30 A.M. EST
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Secretary Esper, General Milley, Lieutenant General Williams, Congressman Meadows, distinguished guests, faculty, and families: It is a great honor and deeply humbling for me to be here today, at the United States Military Academy, with the extraordinary men and women of West Point’s 221st graduating class, the Class of 2019. You made it! (Applause.)
And it’s my honor to be here on behalf of a great champion of all those who wear the uniform of the United States. So allow me to bring greetings and congratulations to the Class of 2091 from your Commander-in-Chief, the 45th President of the United States of America, President Donald Trump. (Applause.)
You know, it was just a few short weeks ago the President and I had the honor of welcoming West Point back to the White House as the Army Black Knights received the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy for the second year in a row. (Applause.) And as the President said, in his words, “The United States Armed Forces are the strongest, toughest, bravest, and fiercest warriors” in the world. And today, Class of 2019, you join their ranks.
You chose to come here and you were chosen to come here. From R-Day, when you were given 90 seconds to say goodbye to your loved ones, from that first day just over the rise when you marched onto The Plain as plebes on Acceptance Day, you committed yourselves to service and excellence.
And over the last four years, you’ve proved yourselves. You are, as the President likes to say, “the best of the best.” And as a sign of the gratitude for the many years of service that you will render to America, your Commander-in-Chief has given me the authority to hereby absolve all cadets on restriction for minor conduct offenses, effective immediately. (Applause.)
You know, it really is deeply humbling for me to stand before you today and see this sight and to be in this historic place. You see, my life didn’t take me into the uniform of the United States. But I’m the son of a soldier. My dad, who is gone 30 years now, but he was a veteran of combat in the Korean War, and he was a member of the United States Army. (Applause.)
And as I stand before you today, here at West Point, I can’t help but think that First Lieutenant Edward J. Pence, looking down from glory, is finally impressed with his third son. (Laughter.) So thank you for the honor. (Applause.)
Since its founding here along the Hudson River 217 years ago, the United States Military Academy has educated, trained, and inspired Corps of Cadets on a foundation of values: duty, honor, country. Those words are engraved on your class ring but they’re also now embedded in your hearts. And they’re the values that will carry you from this day in service to this great nation.
Every West Point grad joins a long tradition of leadership and sacrifice. And today, this incredible class will take its rightful place on the long gray line, with names like Grant, Eisenhower, MacArthur, and all those who trained here — just like a member of the Class of 1959, who ended his life’s journey not too long ago.
He graduated from here in West Point. He would go on to seek combat in Vietnam. He became a captain of industry, he served four American presidents, and his name now graces the visitor’s center here at West Point. And today we remember Frederic V. Malek, and we are so honored that his wife Marlene and family are here with us today. (Applause.)
You join distinguished ranks, just like the men of the Class of 1969 that are going to place those bars on your shoulders today. Among them is a man who was commissioned in armor, also served in Vietnam, and would eventually assume command of the V Corps, where he led 140,000 soldiers in the triumphant march to Baghdad in 2003. For his service, he received the [Defense] Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star. So would you all join me in recognizing the Class of 1969 and their own General Scottie Wallace? (Applause.)
And the Class of 2019 is made up of just such men and women. You’re 985 strong — from all 50 states and 10 countries. Among you are three Fulbright scholars, three Marshall scholars, an NRA Second Team All-American, and star athletes who led West Point to six Patriot League champions this year and beat Navy for the third year in a row. (Applause.)
This is a class full of amazing Americans, like a young cadet from Georgia who’s graduating today. In addition to his degree in nuclear engineering, he became the first-ever cadet to win four consecutive individual Men’s Boxing National Championships. Join me in recognizing Cadet Carlan Ivey for all he’s accomplished. (Applause.) Carlan, where are you? Great job.
Or an impressive young woman from San Jose. She’s graduating today with a degree in life science. As a third-year, she was awarded a Goldwater Scholarship — the oldest and most prestigious award in natural sciences. And as a Firstie, she won the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship. So join me in recognizing Cadet Madeline Ryu! Where are you, Madeline? Great job. (Applause.)
Now, you all know these cadets are just emblematic of all of you. And also, I want to acknowledge the historic milestones that we’re marking today. The Class of 2019 is the most diverse class in the history of the United States Military Academy. (Applause.)
Those milestones include: Today, you’re graduating the 1000th Jewish cadet — (applause) — the 5000th female cadet, including the highest number of Hispanic women graduates. (Applause.) And since the last time I was here, I had the privilege of speaking at the Henry Flipper dinner, honoring the first African American to ever graduate from West Point. I couldn’t be more proud to stand before the graduating class of 2019 that includes the highest number of African American women cadets in the history of the United States Military Academy! (Applause.)
So, for what you’ve accomplished and for who you are, congratulations, Class of 2019. You did it! (Applause.)
And, of course, today we also celebrate and pause to remember three men of honor who couldn’t be with us today. They stepped forward to serve their country but they did not live to see this moment. So, to their families, we say: The United States Army and America will never forget and never fail to honor the service of Thomas Surdyke, Peter Zhu, and Brandon Jackson. (Applause.)
And, Class of 2019, as the Superintendent said, while this is your day, you know you didn’t get here on your own. For four years, your TAC officers and NCOs whipped you into shape, your professors poured themselves into your lives. And as you made the long journey from plebe to firstie, I know you also made some of the best friends of your life. They helped you through papers, and TEEs, and your friends maybe even helped you through a few scenic walks on the Area.
Together, you braved six weeks of “Beast Barracks,” you traded pointers on how to pass your next SAMI, and I’ll bet you also marveled together at each other’s “crass mass of brass and glass.” (Laughter and applause.)
But long before you arrived on campus, it was your families who were there. They believed you could get here. They believed in you, even when you didn’t always believe in yourself. They encouraged you, they prayed for you. And when they pin those bars on your shoulders, I know it’s going to be one of the proudest days of their lives.
And I know what I’m talking about. I’m not just the son of a soldier, but I’m the proud father of a United States Marine. (Applause.) And my wife and have lived this day.
So before we go one step further, Class of 2019, would you all just mind breaking training a little bit? Would you just stand up, look to the left, to the right, and behind you, and catch the eye of the moms and dads, and brothers and sisters, and boyfriends and girlfriends who are here, who got you to this place? Get on your feet and just show them how much you appreciate — (applause) — all they’ve done to get you to this moment. (Applause.) Great job.
So, Class of 2019, today, a journey that started four years ago is ending but a new journey begins. Today, you take up your duties as second lieutenants in the United States Army, and you accept a great responsibility in this republic.
Behind me, across the Lusk Reservoir, stands a memorial dedicated to the American soldier. It reads, and I quote, “The lives and destinies of valiant Americans are entrusted to your care,” and, by those words, to your leadership as well.
Men and women of the Class of 2019, you’re being given the greatest gift an American leader can have, with the greatest responsibility. America’s parents have given you our most precious possession — our sons and daughters. And they ask of you only one thing: lead them well. (Applause.)
When you came here, the world was a dangerous place, and it still is. But I’m pleased to report to you reinforcements that, thanks to the leadership of President Donald Trump, you’re joining an Army that’s better equipped, better trained, and better supplied than any United States Army in the history of this country. (Applause.) It’s true.
In the last two years, we’ve taken decisive action to rebuild our military and restore the arsenal of democracy.
This President has actually signed into law the largest investment in our national defense since the days of Ronald Reagan.
And as you accept the mantle of leadership, I promise you: Your Commander-in-Chief will always have your back. President Donald Trump is the best friend the men and women of our armed forces will ever have! (Applause.)
Proving that, just a few months ago, your Commander-in-Chief proposed the largest defense budget in American history: $750 billion to ensure the strongest fighting force in the history of the world becomes stronger still. We fund an end strength of more than 2 million active and reserved military personnel. We’ll modernize w armored brigade combat teams, and we’ll also provide resources for 12 battle force ships, 2 large unmanned surface ships, and 110 fighter aircraft.
And with that renewed American strength, the United States is once again embracing our role as leader of the free world. We’re standing with our allies and standing up to our enemies.
Our NATO Allies are contributing more to our common defense than ever before. And we’ve taken the fight against radical Islamic terrorists, on our terms, on their soil. And thanks to the courage of our armed forces, just a few short months ago, the last inch of territory under the black flag of ISIS was liberated. (Applause.)
But the truth is, you are taking up your duties at a time of growing challenges to freedom all around the world. So I say to all of you: What you’ve learned in this place, put into practice. You’ve learned the habits of heroes and leaders. And now you’re going to join the fight.
Men and women of West Point, no matter where you’re deployed, you will be the vanguard of freedom, and you know that the “soldier does not bear the sword in vain.” The work you do has never been more important. America will always seek peace, but peace comes through strength. And you are now that strength. (Applause.)
It is a virtual certainty that you will fight on a battlefield for America at some point in your life. You will lead soldiers in combat. It will happen.
Some of you will join the fight against radical Islamic terrorists in Afghanistan and Iraq. Some of you will join the fight on the Korean Peninsula and in the Indo-Pacific, where North Korea continues to threaten the peace, and an increasingly militarized China challenges our presence in the region. Some of you will join the fight in Europe, where an aggressive Russia seeks to redraw international boundaries by force. And some of you may even be called upon to serve in this hemisphere.
And when that day comes, I know you will move to the sound of the guns and do your duty, and you will fight, and you will win. The American people expect nothing less. (Applause.)
So, wherever you’re called, I urge you to take what you learned here and put it into practice. Put your armor on, so that when — not if — that day comes, you’ll be able to stand your ground.
It’s your turn to lead heroes. But to lead heroes, you must be a hero. To lead them, you must be worthy of them. In a word, you must be men and women of integrity.
You know, over the course of my life, I’ve learned that the three most important qualities of leadership, in any human endeavor, are humility, orientation to authority, and self-control.
The first is humility. You’ll be entering the service as officers, but you should, right now, decide that you’re going to consider others more important than yourself. Approach every problem with a spirit of humility. As the Good Book says, “One who puts on his armor should not boast like one who takes it off.” Approach every challenge as a listener. The best decisions are made through counsel and collaboration. Have the humility to listen.
And, second, orientation to authority. You’ve learned it here; now live it out. Like the Centurion who took the Nazarene at his word, saying he was “a man under authority,” so you will be men and women under authority. Respect the chain of command. Submit yourself to the authorities placed above you. Trust your superiors. Trust your orders.
And finally, you’ve gone through a rigorous four years of training here — a time of great personal discipline. Don’t lose that. Discipline is the foundation of all accomplishment. Be an example of self-discipline to the men and women you lead, and you’ll inspire them without saying a word. To lead others, you must lead yourself first. Cultivate these virtues as you’ve already begun to do here at this great academy, and I know you’ll lead with distinction.
You know, I’ve walked across a few stages in my life, and raised my right hand, and taken an oath like you’re going to take today. At least for me, I wondered in those moments whether I could meet the moment. But I’ve come here today, on behalf of your Commander-in-Chief, to tell you: Class of 2019, you’re ready. (Applause.)
So, lead with integrity. Be an example. Mind your mission. Take care of your soldiers. And you will stand your ground. Like the Third Army in the Ardennes forest. Like the 1st Cav at LZ X-Ray. Like the 4th ID at COP Keating. You will stand your ground.
There will be times when you’ve rucked 10 miles, on two hours’ sleep, with 80 pounds on your back, without much to eat. But you’ll do your duty. You’ll stand your ground. Because the United States Army never quits. It never accepts defeat. It always puts the mission first. And you, my friends, are Army Strong. (Applause.)
So by hewing to the principles and values that you learned here, you will prove yourself worthy of the trust the American people are placing in you today.
As you prepare to leave this place, you go with the confidence of your Commander-in-Chief, you go with the support of your families. And I believe with all my heart, you do not go alone.
Throughout the long and storied history of this nation, at just the right time, Providence has brought forth just the right leaders to preserve and protect the republic, many of which were forged on these hills. And now you are among them.
So as you leave here, never doubt that you have the support of the American people and all of those elected to serve them. And also, never doubt that He who brought you this far will never leave you or forsake you, because He never will. (Applause.)
Men and women of the Class of 2019, congratulations. You made it. And I know in the years ahead you will do your part to ensure for ourselves and our posterity that “Freedom Will Reign.”
God bless you and protect you. (Applause.) And God bless our Army and armed forces. And God bless America.
10:56 A.M. EDT