Harris becomes first female US Naval Academy commencement speaker

Vice President Kamala Harris will become the first woman to give the commencement speech at the United States Naval Academy. By Jasmine Wright

(CNN) -- Vice President Kamala Harris on Friday became the first woman to give the commencement speech at the United States Naval Academy when she addresses the 2021 graduating class.

During the speech, Harris touched on some of the biggest threats to the nation and its armed forces, including the pandemic, cybersecurity and climate change. One White House official said the address was her first broad speech focused on the military and the threats the country faces today.

"The global pandemic -- you see, of course -- has accelerated what was happening before, and it has accelerated our world into a new era. It has forever impacted our world. It has forever influenced our perspective. And if we weren't clear before, we know now: Our world is interconnected. Our world is interdependent. And our world is fragile," Harris said.

"Just think: A deadly pandemic can spread throughout the globe in just a matter of months. A gang of hackers can disrupt the fuel supply of a whole seaboard. One country's carbon emissions can threaten the sustainability of the whole Earth. This, midshipmen, is the era we're in. It is unlike any era that came before. So, the challenge now, the challenge before us now is how to mount a modern defense to these modern threats."

Presidents and vice presidents deliver commencement speeches at the service academies each year on a rotating basis. Last week, President Joe Biden delivered the commencement address at the US Coast Guard Academy. In 2015, he spoke at the Naval Academy, as did former President Donald Trump in 2018.

Harris issued a kind of call of action, beckoning the graduates to defend the nation and make other historic advances.

"We must defend our nation against these threats. And at the same time, we must make advances in things that you've been learning, things like quantum computing, artificial intelligence, robotics, things that will put our nation at a strategic advantage," Harris said.

"And you will be the ones to do it. You will be the ones to do it because the United States military is the best, the bravest, and the most brilliant. And just think, from walkie talkies, to the Internet, to satellite navigation, the United States military that has been on the forefront of research, development and technological advancement. That is a point of American pride. And as I look out at all of you, I know you will build on that leadership."

Ahead of her address, Harris spoke with Midshipman First Class Sydney Barber, the first Black woman to serve as brigade commander at the academy, according to a White House official.

The prestigious brigade role serves as a class president of sorts as Barber oversees the student body. Harris has a pair of Barber's shoulder boards in her ceremonial office as well, placed there after Harris was sworn in, the official added.

In a private Zoom conversation last week, which the Harris' office will release Saturday as a part of the White House's weekly address series, the pair spoke about Barber's experience at the academy and her plan for the future.

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