ANNAPOLIS, Md. — It was the glorious culmination, following four years of hard work:
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin told the United States Naval Academy graduates on Friday that their country is counting on them.
It was graduation day for 1,018 members of the Class of 2023. 258 of the graduates accepted commissions in the Marine Corps. 744 of them did the same in the Navy.
And they leave Annapolis with words of wisdom from Austin, who said the careers they've chosen won't be easy. They'll be hard. Because that's what their country needs.
"Around the world, the Navy and Marine Corps bring relief to disaster zones. They counter-piracy. And drug trafficking. They defend the freedom of the seas and skies and space. And that's what American seapower lets us do. Ensigns and second lieutenants, that is your mission," he said.
And, Austin implored the graduates to always remember why they're doing this in the first place.
"Class of 2023, remind the world what you stand for: honor, courage and commitment. Democracy, liberty and the rule of law."
Austin continued: "You will travel the globe to defend our democracy. And you will learn that the lifeblood of the rules-based international order is actually seawater. That's a big job, but you're up to it."
Finally, after enduring the pandemic years, losing two out of four football games to Army, and this day's more than two-and-a-half hour ceremony, the moment they'd all been waiting for finally arrived.
After a rousing chorus of three cheers, they tossed their covers into the air.
And they joined the 90,000 other graduating midshipmen who preceded them dating back to 1845.
On Saturday, Vice President Kamala Harris will become the first woman to deliver a commencement speech at the United States Military Academy at West Point.