On Wednesday, the U.S. Coast Guard Academy celebrated the graduation of the Class of 2017, with Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft, Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly and President Donald Trump in attendance.
Adm. Zukunft opened by noting the progress the Coast Guard has made in funding and ordering new vessel classes under the Trump administration, including a new heavy icebreaker, the first of six that the Coast Guard expects to commission in coming years. Addressing the cadets, he emphasized the gravity of their new responsibilities as commissioned officers. "With national security comes public trust. And the two of those are interwoven, and you can't have both of those unless you have leaders of character," he said. "I am going to entrust the men and women that you are going to lead, I am going to entrust their lives, to your leadership, to your judgement."
Zukunft introduced Secretary of Homeland Security Gen. John F. Kelly (USMC, ret'd.), the civilian leader of the Coast Guard and the nation’s border security agencies. Gen. Kelly gave two pieces of advice to the new graduates. "Take care of your people," he said. "Train them, mentor them, defend them. They will do anything you ask them to do." Second, he advised them to be honest. "Tell the truth. Tell the truth to your seniors, even though it's uncomfortable, even though they may not want to hear it. You owe them that," he said.
Kelly closed his remarks by noting that American military officers are the only servicemen and servicewomen in the world to take an oath to defend an idea – the Constitution – rather than a person or a government. "We have the most unique oath on the planet. If we were in London right now and you were graduating from whatever school, you would be taking an oath to the sovereign, to the Queen," Kelly said. "We are the only country, we are the only people that take an oath to a concept embodied in a piece of paper called the U.S. Constitution. Understand that first and foremost we are a nation of laws . . . Understand that you are swearing to the American people, to a piece of paper, to uphold the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic, unto your death you're willing to go to fulfill that oath.”
Kelly then gave the stage to President Trump for the commencement address. The president thanked the cadets for their service to the nation: "You chose the path of service. You chose hard work, high standards and a very noble mission to save lives, defend the homeland and protect America's interests around the world. You chose the Coast Guard. Good choice. Good choice," he said.
Trump exhorted the cadets to learn how to act under pressure and to persevere in the face of adversity. "Never, ever ever give up. Look at the way I've been treated lately, " Trump said. "Especially by the media. No politician in history – and I say this with great surety – has been treated worse or more unfairly. You can't let them get you down." The crowd applauded his remarks.
Trump closed by thanking the entire Coast Guard for its 24/7 worldwide service, saving lives and interdicting criminals. "You truly are doing God's work," Trump said. "I thank you, I salute you and I once again congratulate the Coast Guard Class of 2017. God bless you, God bless the Coast Guard, and God bless the United States of America . . . Great honor. Good luck. Enjoy your life," he concluded.
The president stayed to present all of the 195 graduating cadets with their diplomas.