The President Delivers the United States Coast Guard Academy Commencement Address

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The President: Thank you so much. (applause) Thank you! (applause) Thank you very much. Everybody, please
have a seat. Class of 2015 — ahoy! Audience: Ahoy! The President: There are now
fewer days to go until the Class of 2015 graduates
than — never mind. (laughter) There are now 0 days until the graduates. (applause) Thank you, Admiral Zukunft, for your kind introduction
and for your leadership of our Coast Guardsmen on
all seven continents. Governor Malloy, Secretary
Johnson, Ambassador, distinguished guests,
faculty and staff, families and friends. And Admiral Stosz, as you
prepare to conclude your time as Superintendent,
thank you for your outstanding stewardship
of this Academy. You made history as the
first woman ever to lead one of our nation’s
service academies. (applause) And I know you’ll keep
making history, because I was proud to
nominate you for your third star and as the Coast
Guard’s next Deputy Commandant for
Mission Support. (applause) It is wonderful
to be with all of you here today on this beautiful day. Michelle sends her
greetings as well. She is the proud sponsor
of the Coast Guard cutter Stratton — which
is tough to beat. But as Admiral
Zukunft pointed out, both the Coast Guard and I
were born on the same day. So I want you all to know,
every birthday from now on I will be thinking
about the Coast Guard. (laughter and applause) Now, the Coast Guard may be the
smallest of our services, but I have to say you
may also be the loudest. (laughter) Whenever I visit our
military bases, there are always lots of
soldiers and sailors and airmen and Marines. They make a lot of noise. But wherever I am — across
the country or around the world, including Afghanistan
— nowhere near an ocean — the most determined cheer
from the crowd comes from our proud Coast Guardsmen,
because usually there might only be one or two of them. (laughter) As
Paul mentioned, in my State of the Union
address this year, I mentioned how I’ve seen
America at its best when commissioning
our new officers, including here
in New London. And it’s true, some folks
across the country didn’t quite get the reference. One person tweeted that they
were pretty sure I just made this up. (laughter) Then there was
one person in town who asked, “Did Obama
name drop New London?” So let me do it again. It is a great honor to
be back in New London, at the United States Coast
Guard Academy — (applause) — to salute the newest
ensigns of America’s oldest, continuous maritime service. (applause) Cadets, this is a day to
celebrate all that you’ve achieved over
these past four years. You have excelled at one
of the most selective and rigorous academic
institutions in America. You’ve held yourselves to
a high code of conduct, proven yourself worthy to be
called commissioned officers in the United
States Coast Guard. You pushed yourselves
physically — from Swab Summer to beating your
officers at basketball and softball and football. You braced up, squared your meals, spent Friday nights waxing
the floors — maybe a little “Rodeo Buffing.” I saw the video. That looks dangerous,
by the way. (laughter) You made your mark, and you will be remembered. In Chase Hall. In this stadium. And at Hanafin’s
and Bulkeley House. (applause) Which reminds me,
in keeping with longstanding tradition, I hereby
absolve all cadets serving restrictions for
minor offenses. (laughter) Minor offenses. You came together
as one team. We are joined today by
Commander Merle Smith — the first African American
graduate of this Academy — (applause) — Class of 1966,
a decorated Vietnam veteran. His legacy endures in
all of you — because the graduating Class of 2015 is
the most diverse in Academy history. And you took care of
each other, like family. Today we honor the memory
of your classmate from the Republic of Georgia,
Soso, along with Beso. Their spirits will live on
in the partnerships you forge with Coast Guards
all over the world. Today, you take your
rightful place in the Long Blue Line. For Marina Stevens
and her family, it is a very long line. Where is Marina? Just wave at me real quick. There she is right there. Marina’s dad is
Coast Guard civilian. Her mom, Janet, an
Academy graduate, was a Coast Guard captain
and will pin on Marina’s shoulder boards today. Marina’s grandfather
was a Coast Guardsman. Her great-grandfather
joined the U.S. Lighthouse Service in 1918. That’s four generations,
spanning nearly the entire life of the modern
Coast Guard. No wonder she’s
named Marina. (laughter and applause) It’s in her blood. And, Cadets, I know that
none of you reached this day alone. So join me in giving a huge
round of applause to your mentors and your incredible
parents and your family members — so many
of them, themselves, veterans as well. Please give them a
big round of applause. (applause) Class of 2015, I’m here
as your Commander-in-Chief, on behalf of the
American people, to say thanks to each of you. Thanks for choosing to
serve — for stepping up, for giving up the comforts
of civilian life, for putting on
that uniform. Thank you for the service
you are about to render — the life of purpose
that you’ve embraced, the risks that you’ve
accepted and the sacrifices that you will make. But I’m not here to
just sing your praises. I want to speak to you
about what comes next. Soon, you’ll fan out across
the Coast Guard and some of you will go to sectors
and shore command. Some of you will start
your duty aboard cutters. Some of you will start
flight training. America needs you. And we need the Coast
Guard more than ever. We need you to safeguard our
ports against all threats, including terrorism. We need you to respond
in times of disaster or distress and lead your
rescue teams as they jump out of perfectly
good helicopters. We need you in the Caribbean
and Central America, interdicting drugs before
they reach our streets and damage our kids. We need you in the Middle
East; in the Gulf; alongside our Navy; in
places like West Africa, where you helped keep the
ports open so that the world could fight a
deadly disease. We need you in
the Asia Pacific, to help our partners train
their own coast guards to uphold maritime security
and freedom of navigation in waters vital to
our global economy. These are all
demanding missions. The pace of
operations is intense. And these are tight fiscal
times for all our services, including the Coast Guard. But we are going to keep
working to give you the boats and the cutters and
the aircraft that you need to complete the
missions we ask of you. We’re moving ahead with
new Fast Response Cutters, new Offshore Patrol Cutters. We’re on track to have a
full fleet of new National Security Cutters — the
most advanced in history. And I’ve made it clear that
I will not accept a budget that continues these
draconian budget cuts called sequestration, because
our nation and our military and our Coast Guard
deserve better. (applause) And this brings me to
the challenge I want to focus on today — one
where our Coast Guardsmen are already on the
front lines, and that, perhaps more than any other,
will shape your entire careers — and that’s the
urgent need to combat and adapt to
climate change. As a nation, we face
many challenges, including the grave
threat of terrorism. And as Americans, we will
always do everything in our power to
protect our country. Yet even as we meet threats
like terrorism, we cannot, and we must not,
ignore a peril that can affect
generations. Now, I know there are
still some folks back in Washington who
refuse to admit that climate change is real. And on a day like
today, it’s hard to get too
worried about it. There are folks who
will equivocate. They’ll say, “You know,
I’m not a scientist.” Well, I’m not either. But the best scientists
in the world know that climate change
is happening. Our analysts in the
intelligence community know climate change
is happening. Our military leaders —
generals and admirals, active duty and retired
— know it’s happening. Our homeland security
professionals know it is happening. And our Coast Guard
knows it’s happening. The science is indisputable. The fossil fuels we burn
release carbon dioxide, which traps heat. And the levels of carbon
dioxide in the atmosphere are now higher than they
have been in 800,000 years. The planet is
getting warmer. Fourteen of the 15 hottest
years on record have been in the past 15 years. Last year was the planet’s
warmest year ever recorded. Our scientists at NASA just
reported that some of the sea ice around Antarctica is
breaking up even faster than expected. The world’s glaciers
are melting, pouring new water
into the ocean. Over the past century, the
world sea level rose by about eight inches. That was in the
last century; by the end of this century,
it’s projected to rise another one to four feet. Cadets, the threat of a
changing climate cuts to the very core of your service. You’ve been drawn to water
— like the poet who wrote, “the heart of the great
ocean sends a thrilling pulse through me.” You know the
beauty of the sea, but you also know its
unforgiving power. Here at the Academy, climate
change — understanding the science and the consequences
— is part of the curriculum, and rightly
so, because it will affect everything that you
do in your careers. Some of you have already
served in Alaska and aboard icebreakers, and you
know the effects. As America’s
Maritime Guardian, you’ve pledged to remain
always ready — Semper Paratus — ready
for all threats. And climate change is one of
those most severe threats. And this is not just a
problem for countries on the coasts, or for certain
regions of the world. Climate change will impact
every country on the planet. No nation is immune. So I’m here today to
say that climate change constitutes a serious
threat to global security, an immediate risk to
our national security. And make no mistake, it will
impact how our military defends our country. And so we need to act —
and we need to act now. After all, isn’t that the
true hallmark of leadership? When you’re on deck,
standing your watch, you stay vigilant. You plan for every
contingency. And if you see storm
clouds gathering, or dangerous shoals
ahead, you don’t sit back and do nothing. You take action — to
protect your ship, to keep your crew safe. Anything less is negligence. It is a dereliction of duty. And so, too, with
climate change. Denying it, or refusing
to deal with it endangers our national security. It undermines the
readiness of our forces. It’s been said of life on
the sea — “the pessimist complains about the wind,
the optimist expects it to change; the realist
adjusts the sails.” Cadets, like you,
I reject pessimism. We know what we as Americans
can achieve when we set ourselves to
great endeavors. We are, by nature,
optimists — but we’re not
blind optimists. We know that wishful
thinking in the face of all evidence to the
contrary would set us on a course
for disaster. If we are to meet this
threat of climate change, we must be realists. We have to
readjust the sails. That’s why confronting
climate change is now a key pillar of American
global leadership. When I meet with leaders
around the world, it’s often at the top of our
agenda — a core element of our diplomacy. And you are part of the
first generation of officers to begin your service in a
world where the effects of climate change are
so clearly upon us. It will shape how every
one of our services plan, operate, train, equip,
and protect their infrastructure,
their capabilities, today and for the long term. So let me be specific on how
your generation will have to lead the way to both prepare
ourselves and how to prevent the worst effects
in the future. Around the world, climate
change increases the risk of instability and conflict. Rising seas are already
swallowing low-lying lands, from Bangladesh to
Pacific islands, forcing people
from their homes. Caribbean islands and
Central American coasts are vulnerable, as well. Globally, we could see a
rise in climate change refugees. And I guarantee you the
Coast Guard will have to respond. Elsewhere, more intense
droughts will exacerbate shortages of water and food,
increase competition for resources, and create
the potential for mass migrations and new tensions. All of which is why the
Pentagon calls climate change a “threat
multiplier.” Understand, climate change
did not cause the conflicts we see around the world. Yet what we also know is
that severe drought helped to create the instability in
Nigeria that was exploited by the terrorist
group Boko Haram. It’s now believed that
drought and crop failures and high food prices helped
fuel the early unrest in Syria, which descended into
civil war in the heart of the Middle East. So, increasingly, our
military and our combatant commands, our services —
including the Coast Guard — will need to factor climate
change into plans and operations, because
you need to be ready. Around the world, climate
change will mean more extreme storms. No single weather event
can be blamed solely on climate change. But Typhoon Haiyan in
the Philippines gave us a possible glimpse of
things to come — one of the worst cyclones ever
recorded; thousands killed, many more displaced,
billions of dollars in damage, and a massive
international relief effort that included the
United States military and its Coast Guard. So more extreme storms will
mean more humanitarian missions to deliver
lifesaving help. Our forces will
have to be ready. As Admiral Zukunft
already mentioned, climate change means Arctic
sea ice is vanishing faster than ever. By the middle
of this century, Arctic summers could be
essentially ice free. We’re witnessing the birth
of a new ocean — new sea lanes, more shipping,
more exploration, more competition for the
vast natural resources below. In Alaska, we
have more than 1,000 miles of
Arctic coastline. The United States
is an Arctic nation, and we have a great interest
in making sure that the region is peaceful, that
its indigenous people and environment are protected,
and that its resources are managed responsibly in
partnership with other nations. And that means all of you
are going to have to step up — because few know the
Arctic better than the U.S. Coast Guard. You’ve operated there
across nearly 150 years. And as the Arctic opens, the
role that the Coast Guard plays will only grow. I believe that our interests
in the Arctic demand that we continue to invest in
an enduring Coast Guard icebreaking capacity. I was proud to nominate
your last commandant, Admiral Papp, as our
special representative for the Arctic. And as the U.S. chairs the Arctic
Council this year, I’m committed to advancing
our interests in this critical region because we
have to be ready in the Arctic, as well. Climate change, and
especially rising seas, is a threat to our
homeland security, our economic infrastructure,
the safety and health of the American people. Already, today, in
Miami and Charleston, streets now flood
at high tide. Along our coasts, thousands
of miles of highways and roads, railways, energy
facilities are all vulnerable. It’s estimated that a
further increase in sea level of just one foot by
the end of this century could cost our
nation $200 billion. In New York Harbor, the sea
level is already a foot higher than a century ago —
which was one of the reasons Superstorm Sandy put so
much of lower Manhattan underwater. During Sandy, the Coast
Guard mounted a heroic response, along with our
National Guard and Reserve. But rising seas and stronger
storms will mean more disaster response missions. And we need the Coast
Guard to be ready, because you are America’s
maritime first responder. Climate change poses a
threat to the readiness of our forces. Many of our military
installations are on the coast, including, of course,
our Coast Guard stations. Around Norfolk, high tides
and storms increasingly flood parts of our Navy
base and an airbase. In Alaska, thawing
permafrost is damaging military facilities. Out West, deeper droughts
and longer wildfires could threaten training areas
our troops depend on. So politicians who say
they care about military readiness ought to care
about this, as well. Just as we’re helping
American communities prepare to deal with the impacts
of climate change, we have to help our bases
and ports, as well. Not just with stronger
seawalls and natural barriers, but with
smarter, more resilient infrastructure — because
when the seas rise and storms come, we all
have to be ready. Now, everything I’ve
discussed with you so far is about preparing for the
impacts of climate change. But we need to be honest
— such preparation and adaptation alone
will not be enough. As men and women in uniform,
you know that it can be just as important, if
not more important, to prevent threats
before they can cause catastrophic harm. And the only way — the only way
the world is going to prevent the worst effects of
climate change is to slow down the warming
of the planet. Some warming is
now inevitable. But there comes a point
when the worst effects will be irreversible. And time is running out. And we all know what
needs to happen. It’s no secret. The world has to finally
start reducing its carbon emissions — now. And that’s why I’ve
committed the United States to leading the world
on this challenge. Over the past six years,
we’ve done more than ever to reduce harmful emissions,
unprecedented investments to cut energy waste in
our homes and building, standards to double the fuel
efficiency of our vehicles. We’re using more clean
energy than ever before — more solar, more wind. It’s all helped us reduce
our carbon emissions more than any other
advanced nation. And today, we can be proud
that our carbon pollution is near its lowest levels
in almost two decades. But we’ve got to do more. So, going forward, I’ve
committed to doubling the pace at which we cut
carbon pollution. And that means we
all have to step up. And it will not be easy. It will require sacrifice,
and the politics will be tough. But there is no other way. We have to make our
homes and buildings more efficient. We have to invest in
more energy research and renewable technologies. We have to move ahead with
standards to cut the amount of carbon pollution
in our power plants. And working with
other nations, we have to achieve a strong
global agreement this year to start reducing the total
global emission — because every nation
must do its part. Every nation. So this will be tough. But as so often is the case,
our men and women in uniform show us the way. They’re used to sacrifice
and they are used to doing hard stuff. Class of 2015, you’ve
built new equipment that uses less energy. You’ve designed new
vessels with fewer harmful emissions. Stephen Horvath, selected
as a Fulbright Scholar, will research new
technologies for renewable energies. The Coast Guard is building
more fuel-efficient cutters. So you’re already leading. And, Cadets, as
you go forward, I challenge you to keep
imagining and building the new future we need — and
make your class motto your life’s work: “To
go where few dare.” This is a place
where we need you. Across our military, our
bases and ports are using more solar and wind, which
helps save money that we can use to improve readiness. The Army is pursuing
new, lighter, more fuel-efficient
vehicles. The Air Force F-22
broke the sound barrier using biofuels. And the Navy runs an entire
carrier strike group — the Green Fleet —
with biofuels. Our Marines have deployed to
Afghanistan with portable solar panels, lightening
their load and reducing dangerous resupply missions. So fighting climate change
and using energy wisely also makes our forces more
nimble and more ready. And that’s something
that should unite us as Americans. This cannot be subject to
the usual politics and the usual rhetoric. When storms gather,
we get ready. And I want to leave you
with a story that captures the persistence and the
patriotism that this work requires, because this is a
nation made up of folks who know how to do hard things. Down in the front row
is Dr. Olivia Hooker. In 1921, in Tulsa, Oklahoma,
when she was just six years old, her African American
community was attacked by white mobs — it was a
horrific racial incident. And hundreds of innocent
African Americans were killed. The mobs destroyed her
father’s clothing store. They looted her house. They even burned the little
clothes for her doll. And Olivia could have
given in to bitterness. She could have been
pessimistic about her country. Instead, she made it better. So in World War II, she
enlisted as a SPAR, becoming the first African
American woman in the Coast Guard. (applause) As a yeoman in Boston, she
served with distinction. By the time the war was
won, she was discharged, she was a petty
officer second class. With the GI Bill, Olivia
earned her master’s, then her doctorate. She has been a professor
and mentor to her students, a passionate advocate for
Americans with disabilities, a psychologist counseling
young children, a caregiver at the height
of the AIDS epidemic, a tireless voice for
justice and equality. A few months ago, Olivia
turned 100 years old. (applause) So, Olivia, you’re
going to have to tell us you’re secret. She’s still as sharp as
they come, and as fearless. (applause) In Yonkers, New York, she
even still volunteers as a member of the
Coast Guard Auxiliary, and was determined to be
here with us today. So, Dr. Hooker, thank you. You’re an inspiration. (applause) One hundred years old. So Dr. Hooker has led
a remarkable life. But this is what she says —
“It’s not about you, or me. It’s about what we can
give to this world.” Cadets, you’re at the
start of your careers. And we cannot
know, each of us, how many days we
will walk this Earth. We can’t guarantee we’re
all going to live to 100. But what we can do is live
each day to its fullest. What we can do is look
squarely at what will make the biggest difference for
future generations and be willing to tackle
those challenges. And as you embark on
your life of service, as you man your stations,
and head to the seas, and take to the skies,
should the sea begin to surge and the waves swell
and the wind blows hard against your face, I want
you to think back to this moment — to feel what you
feel in your hearts today. And if you remember all that
you’ve learned here on the Thames — how you came
here and came together, out of many one, to achieve
as a team what you could never do alone — if you
resolve to stay worthy of traditions that endure
— honor, respect, devotion to duty — if you
heed the wisdom and humility of a petty officer second
class from Oklahoma, to think not of yourself,
but what you can give to this world — then I’m
confident that you will truly go where few dare. And you will rise to meet
the challenges that not only face our country,
but face our planet. And your legacy will be a
nation that is stronger and safer for
generations to come. So, Class of 2015 — thank
you for your service. Congratulations. God bless you. God bless all our
Coast Guardsmen. God bless our United
States of America. Thank you. (applause)

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