Biden Delivers Commencement Address at West Point

  • More than 950 cadets in the U.S. Military Academy’s Class of 2016 graduated receiving their Bachelor of Science degrees at Michie Stadium in West Point, May 21. Vice President Joe Biden was the commencement speaker. (U.S. Army/Staff Sgt. Vito T. Bryant)
    More than 950 cadets in the U.S. Military Academy’s Class of 2016 graduated receiving their Bachelor of Science degrees at Michie Stadium in West Point, May 21. Vice President Joe Biden was the commencement speaker. (U.S. Army/Staff Sgt. Vito T. Bryant)
  • More than 950 cadets in the U.S. Military Academy’s Class of 2016 graduated receiving their Bachelor of Science degrees at Michie Stadium in West Point, May 21. Vice President Joe Biden was the commencement speaker. (U.S. Army/Staff Sgt. Vito T. Bryant)
    More than 950 cadets in the U.S. Military Academy’s Class of 2016 graduated receiving their Bachelor of Science degrees at Michie Stadium in West Point, May 21. Vice President Joe Biden was the commencement speaker. (U.S. Army/Staff Sgt. Vito T. Bryant)
  • More than 950 cadets in the U.S. Military Academy’s Class of 2016 graduated receiving their Bachelor of Science degrees at Michie Stadium in West Point, May 21. Vice President Joe Biden was the commencement speaker. (U.S. Army/Staff Sgt. Vito T. Bryant)
    More than 950 cadets in the U.S. Military Academy’s Class of 2016 graduated receiving their Bachelor of Science degrees at Michie Stadium in West Point, May 21. Vice President Joe Biden was the commencement speaker. (U.S. Army/Staff Sgt. Vito T. Bryant)

WEST POINT — Vice President Joe Biden took time during his address to the West Point Class of 2016 on Saturday to praise some changes that he said will make the Army better and stronger.

That includes the recent decision to allow women to serve in combat posts. Five women in this year's graduating class are going into the Army's infantry branch and two others into the armor branch.

Biden said women and men serving together in the field of combat will make the Army stronger when it is sent into places with "different expectations and norms."

Biden also praised Eugene "E.J." Coleman, the class president and first captain of the Corps of Cadets, for having the courage to publicly admit he is gay. Before the repeal of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, that admission could have deprived the Army of a good soldier, Biden said.

He also saluted Coleman, of Alexandra, Va., for being only the third cadet in West Point history to be both class president and first captain. The others were Gen. John Pershing, class of 1886 and commander of U.S. forces in France in World War I, and Brig. Gen. Pete Dawkins, class of 1959, the last West Point football player to win the Heisman Trophy.

The 953 graduates were commissioned as second lieutenants in the Army, with some exceptions. Three will go into the Navy and one into the Marine Corps. There also were 11 cadets from other countries who will serve in those nations' armed forces.

For the first time, the new second lieutenants were given their oath by a woman: Brig. Gen. Diana M. Holland, the U.S. Military Academy's first female commandant of cadets.

Biden's address focused mostly on the cadets and the world in which they will serve, rather than policy or politics.

"It will be the most challenging and rewarding work you ever do," Biden predicted.

He noted they will face enemies not only on the battlefield but in cyberspace, and also could be called on to help take on things like contagious diseases.

Biden also echoed West Point Superintendent Lt. Gen. Robert L. Caslen Jr. in saluting the cadets' parents and family members for giving them the strength to get through the four tough years at West Point.

"Thank you for molding such patriots, and for teaching them to put something before self," Biden said. "I thank you, and the nation thanks you."

Graduates celebrated on the Michie Stadium field with their families after the traditional hat toss ended the formal ceremony.

"This is the most amazing feeling I've ever had," said Alyssa Strobehn of Utah, who's going into the aviation branch.

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