Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to Speak at 2024 Naval Academy Graduation Ceremony

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin speaks during a hearing
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin speaks during a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Committee Subcommittee on Defense on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, May 8, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III will deliver the keynote speech during the 2024 U.S. Naval Academy graduation and commissioning ceremony, the academy announced Wednesday.

Austin is scheduled to address the graduates at 10 a.m. May 24 at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.

The ceremony is open to invited guests only, but will be livestreamed on YouTube. Roughly 1,000 midshipmen in the class of 2024 will be commissioned as officers in the Navy or Marine Corps.

The procession of graduates and faculty will begin at 9 a.m., with the ceremony starting at 10 a.m., according to the academy’s commissioning week schedule. The Blue Angels are scheduled for a flyover at 10:04 a.m. The flight demonstration squadron will be practicing and performing in the days leading up to the ceremony.

Austin, 70, made history on Jan. 22, 2021 as the first Black person to serve as the secretary of defense. A retired four-star general, Austin was also the first Black person to lead the U.S. Central Command — a position he held from 2013 until his retirement in 2016.

Born in Mobile, Alabama, in 1953, Austin was raised in Thomasville, Georgia. He graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1975. Austin later earned master’s degrees in education and business management from Auburn University in Alabama and Webster University in Missouri. He is also a graduate of the Army Command and General Staff College and the Army War College.

After graduating from West Point, Austin was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the infantry. His 41-year career in the Army took him across the U.S., Europe and the Middle East. Austin served as the Commanding General of the U.S. Forces in Iraq, overseeing all combat operations in the county, in addition to a tour as the Army’s Vice Chief of Staff.

Austin is also a recipient of the Silver Star, the third-highest award for valor in combat, for his leadership of the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division during the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Austin delivered the graduation keynote speech last year. He acknowledged the adversity the class of 2023 had faced in their four years at the academy, including the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, but he assured them that they were ready.

President Joe Biden spoke in 2022 and Vice President Kamala Harris spoke in 2021. The speech generally rotates between the president, vice president and secretary of defense.

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