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Secretary Buttigieg Remarks at United States Merchant Marine Academy’s 85th Commencement

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery by   
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg   
U.S. Merchant Marine Academy Commencement  
June 19, 2021  

Thank you, Superintendent Buono. 

To the families, friends, instructors, and everyone who helped guide the graduates to reach today – thank you, and enjoy this celebration. 

To the graduating midshipmen of the Class of 2021 - congratulations! 

On behalf of the U.S. Department of Transportation and the President of the United States, I want to say how proud of you we are. 

And you should be proud of what you have accomplished. 

You overcame some of the most challenging disruptions to confront a Kings Point class in generations. 

I know that COVID deeply affected the lives of your fellow midshipmen, mariners and their families, that your voyages at sea were disrupted, and traditions on land like the ring dance were canceled or changed.  

But in the tradition of discipline and resilience, you adapted, you persevered, and you made it to this moment.  

You are Kings Pointers. 

And I am deeply hopeful about the world that you and your generation of mariners will help create. 

Graduating from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy places you into a proud tradition of service in America. 

You embody so many of the qualities that make America a great power. 

For example, our country is a great power largely because we’re a great sea power – our military and our maritime trade – both of which you now will help lead.  

We’re also a great power because we are connected to every person and country on earth, moving not only goods but also people and ideas across vast spaces, including oceans. 

And, as President Biden often says, we’re a great power because of the power of our example – our values make us stronger. And that is especially true when we commit ourselves to service.   

It’s hard to think of a group that embodies the many forms of American service the way that Kings Pointers do. 

As graduates, you will serve in different ways - in the maritime industry, in the reserves, on active duty - but you all will serve. 

The past year has offered no shortage of blunt reminders that we cannot predict exactly what your service will require of you. 

I remember being in college on 9/11 and knowing that the project of my generation had just been reassigned. We don't know what your mission or missions will be. It could be responding to a terrorist attack, like the midshipmen here did after 9/11. It could be maintaining critical supply lines after a cyber attack against one of our pipelines like what we saw earlier this year. It could be managing the effects of the mounting climate crisis, like the Merchant Mariners who supported rescue operations after increasingly severe hurricanes. 

Whatever it is, you are prepared, and you will respond bravely. 

You will serve in peace and you may serve in war. 

You will serve at sea, and you will find many ways to serve at home. 

When you are navigating treacherous waters, or when you deploy, you quickly learn to see past differences and trust each other as you work together towards a common goal.  That mindset of cooperation is something we relied on during the pandemic—and it is certainly something we need to cultivate in this country. The spirit of service helps us see the person next to us as someone we can trust and respect, and work together to achieve big things with, no matter our differences.  

As Secretary of Transportation, I will work with my team to support you in your work. We are doubling down on our efforts to modernize our inland waterways, coastal ports, and ferries – and to strengthen our U.S.-flag fleet – so that you can do your jobs safely and so that America remains the great maritime power we have long been. 

Your service will take many forms, but what will remain constant are the skills, character and courage that you have learned and displayed at Kings Point. 

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt once said: "Our American Merchant Marine have pushed through despite the perils of the submarine, the dive bomber, and the surface raider.”

Circumstances change, technology changes, the threats and opportunities change - but that courage to push through despite the perils, that has never been more important, and that has never wavered. 

That will serve you well, and you will serve America well. 

Congratulations. 

Fair winds and following seas!