Speaking at the U.S. Air Force Academy’s graduation ceremony June 1, President Joe Biden urged the Class of 2023’s 921 graduates “to keep us at the forefront of air and space dominance.”
The newly-commission Air Force and Space Force officers must lead, he said, at an “inflection point” in history: “Your Airmen and Guardians are going to look to you for guidance and inspiration, because the world is going to get more confusing,” Biden said. “They’ll put their trust in you. You in turn must strive to always be worthy of their confidence. Listen to them. Listen to them.”
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, competition with China, the impacts of climate change, and unknown challenges stemming from the rise of artificial intelligence will all change the world.
“It’s not going to be easy decisions, guys,” said Biden. “I met in the Oval Office with eight leading scientists in the area of AI. Some are very worried that AI can actually overtake human thinking.” Yet, at the same time, he said, the Air Force and Space Force face a future of “incredible opportunity.”
“We’re working across multiple domains developing new capabilities, like our new next-gen B-21 Raider,” Biden noted. “You’re going to be flying that sucker. We’re going to count on you to keep us at the forefront of air and space dominance, enabling the entire joint force.”
Speaking before Biden, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall emphasized the importance of new technology and changing global dynamics to the new officers.
“You’re accepting a leadership role in a military in the midst of a strategic competition that is as great a challenge as we have faced in decades, certainly in my career,” said Kendall, who graduated from West Point 52 years ago. “You will be challenged to meet the requirements of our current missions while preparing for an uncertain future. You will be challenged to get everything you can out of today’s force to help build tomorrow’s force.”
Biden and Kendall’s remarks echo the National Security Strategy released last year, which referred to the 2020s as a “decisive decade.”
“The decisions we make today are going to determine what the world looks like decades from now,” Biden said. “No graduating class gets to choose the world into which they graduate. Every class enters the history of a nation up to the point that has been read by others. A few classes once every several generations, enters at a point in our history where they actually have a chance to change the trajectory of the country.”
In order to effect that change, Biden and Kendall said, new officers will have to foster a positive environment for their troops.
“Our nation’s parents are entrusting their sons and daughters to your supervision and care,” Kendall said. “As a leader of character, you are now responsible for creating and strengthening the readiness of the units you will serve and lead. As commissioned officers, you will be responsible for the example you set, for the conduct of those under your supervision, and for shaping the culture of organizations you lead or are a part of.”
Specifically, Biden called on the graduates to “root out the scourge of sexual assault and harassment in the military” and “make sure that every member of our forces … feel safe and respected in the ranks.”
Biden later personally congratulated each graduate as they received their degree. At the end, he tripped on a seam or wire on the stage, falling down to gasps from the crowd. The president was quickly helped to his feet by aides and returned to his seat under his own power; he later posed for photographs with the new officers.