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President Biden tells grads to prepare for a changing world

Cadets tossing caps in airU.S. Air Force Academy Class of 2023 graduates toss their hats into the air after their graduation ceremony at Falcon Stadium June 1, 2023. The commencement speaker was President Joe Biden. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Trevor Cokley)  

By Randy Roughton
U.S. Air Force Academy Strategic Communications 

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. President Joe Biden told U.S. Air Force Academy Class of 2023 graduates June 1 that they will soon help change the rapidly changing world that awaits them. 

The president said the world is at “an inflection point,” and that the new second lieutenants are ready to face the challenge. 

“The decisions we make today are going to determine what the world looks like decades from now,” Biden said. “No graduating class gets to choose the world into which they graduate. But a few classes, once every several generations, enter at a point in our history where they actually have a chance to change the trajectory of their country. You’ll face that inflection point today and I know you are going to meet the moment to make sure that the future we’re building is one that fundamentally aligns with our values and protects America’s interests.” 

Most diverse class to date

Biden gave the commencement speech for the Class of ‘23 at the Academy’s graduation ceremony in Falcon Stadium, speaking to 921 graduates, faculty, staff and thousands of friends and relatives. He praised the class for its diversity. This year’s class had the highest graduation percentage of women and minorities in the Academy’s history, Biden said. Twenty-nine percent of the class were women, and minorities comprised 31% of the graduates. He noted the Academy achieved this feat during the 75th anniversary of the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act and the 50th anniversary of an all-volunteer military. 

The president also encouraged the graduates to use their character and leadership to meet the challenges that await them. 

President Biden shaking hands with graduating cadetPresident Joe Biden greets a U.S. Air Force Academy cadet at the Class of 2023 graduation ceremony at Falcon Stadium June 1, 2023. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Justin Pacheco) 

“The power of our example”

“I’ve always believed that America is strongest when we lead, not by the example of our power but by the power of our example,” Biden said. “The same can be true of your own experience in leadership. No matter what changes or challenges come, your character, your moral clarity and your capabilities must never waver.” 

Before Biden took the podium, Lt. Gen. Richard M. Clark, Academy superintendent, compared the class’s resiliency, particularly their response during the COVID-19 pandemic, to that shown by the officer they chose as their exemplar, Lt. Col. Leo K. Thorsness. Each class selects one Airman who served significantly in the Air Force as an exemplar to follow. 

This year’s class exemplar was a Vietnam-era fighter pilot who led a flight of four F-105 Thunderbirds on a mission in North Vietnam April 19, 1967. Despite the extreme danger, Thorsness remained behind when one of his wingmen was shot down. He shot down one MiG-17 and took on four more when he spotted them over the downed aircraft. Thorsness later received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions. Eleven days later, he was shot down, captured, and remained a prisoner of war for more than six years. 

Thorsness, who died in 2017, “did not falter, and he did not fail,” Clark said, paraphrasing the last two lines in the Airman’s Creed. 

Surviving and thriving

“During your time at the Academy, I saw firsthand the hardships the Class of 2023 had and how you reflected the qualities of your exemplar,” Clark said. “Like Leo Thorsness, you did not falter and you did not fail. During your first year, you found yourselves in the middle of a pandemic and we sent you home in March to learn [virtually]. The dean, staff and faculty pivoted on a dime and moved from an in-person curriculum to distance learning. Other universities were forced to shut down, but we couldn’t because your country needed you.”

Clark added, “I’m proud to say that you didn’t just survive; you thrived.” 

Cadets hugging at graduationTwo U.S. Air Force Academy Class of 2023 graduates embrace during their graduation ceremony at Falcon Stadium June 1, 2023. President Joe Biden was the commencement speaker. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Justin Pacheco) 

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