Vice President Harris congratulates USAFA Class of ‘24

  • Published
  • By Katherine Spessa
  • U.S. Air Force Academy Strategic Communications

As this year’s featured speaker, Vice President Kamala Harris spoke to the 974 graduating cadets of the Class of 2024 during the U.S. Air Force Academy’s graduation ceremony at Falcon Stadium, May 30.

Harris highlighted ever-present conflict around the world, the U.S. military’s role in the global domain since first earning air superiority ahead of D-Day and the importance of the graduating cadets, their new role as leaders and in continuing this legacy of air and space supremacy.

“Around the world, our allies are in awe, and our adversaries are in fear of America’s dominance in the air,” Harris said. “We see it on NATO’s eastern flank, where our air patrols deter Putin from extending and expanding his war of aggression. We see it in Ukraine, where our weapons deliveries and missile warnings help the people of Ukraine defend their homes and homeland, their sovereignty and territorial integrity. We see it in the Indo-Pacific where our presence ensures a free and open region.”

As the U.S. better postures for an era of Great Power Competition, the Class of 2024 will head to their next assignments in a changing U.S. Air Force and U.S. Space Force.

“I am confident that as the nature of warfare changes, you’ll make sure that no one will ever match, much less exceed, America’s military power as you innovate and shape our future,” Harris said. “You have dedicated yourself to service, and America’s security relies on you.”

Harris addressed a packed stadium of senior leaders; Academy faculty, staff and cadets; and proud loved ones — many of whom were U.S. military veterans wearing uniforms pulled from storage to honor their cadets.

“Eighty years ago, over the beaches of Normandy, America won control of the skies, and we have kept it ever since,” she said, earning thunderous applause. “From air combat over the Korean peninsula to providing close air support in Vietnam, from our dominance in Desert Storm in the Balkans to Iraq and Afghanistan, America’s record of air and space superiority has been unmatched and unbroken.”

Milestone achieved
As with any university graduation, this ceremony marked the culmination of the cadets’ four years of hard academic and athletic effort. Unlike most universities, it also culminated four years of military training and barracks living.

While their university career was celebrated with splendor, it did not begin so. They arrived at the Academy in the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic. Their first year was marked by quarantine and they missed fourth-year traditions. Then-Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Richard M. Clark and his dog, Cairo, spent nearly two months living in the dormitories, playing ping pong, video games and “carrier landings” with cadets to enliven their time in quarantine and their first time away from their families.

“Your family couldn’t even give you a proper goodbye; they basically had to kick you out of the car and keep driving,” Clark said. “You made hard sacrifices, but watching you through these challenges, I learned early on in your time at USAFA that you have a great ability to lead through uncertainty.”

The pomp and circumstance of the event were a fitting tribute to the cadets’ effort and sacrifice and to the support and encouragement of their loved ones in attendance.

The ceremony featured performances by the Academy’s acapella groups In the Stairwell and Aerodynamics, the Cadet Sabre Drill Team and the U.S. Air Force Academy Band, culminating with the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, the Thunderbirds.

Timed perfectly to coincide with the graduates’ iconic hat toss, the Thunderbirds screamed over the stadium before starting their 20-minute demonstration. Following the hat toss, children from the audience careened onto the field to collect hats, often pinned with money and notes from the graduates to the children.

Moving forward
Following the ceremony, the newly-commissioned lieutenants will leave for a hard-earned break before heading to their active duty assignments. These 974 graduates will join the more than 55,000 who came before in serving their country. Over 200 of them will continue on to graduate school. Fifteen foreign students will return to their home countries. Ninety-two will join the U.S. Space Force, and nearly half will become rated officers.

“You are about to embark on a new chapter in your own stories that you’ve been eager to begin for several years as leaders in our United States military,” said Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall. “Most importantly, you will be responsible for America’s sons and daughters who will come under your leadership.

“I am more than confident you are up for that challenge.”