WEST POINT — President Barack Obama was the commencement speaker for the 1,064 cadets that made up West Point’s Class of 2014.
Obama told the cadets last Wednesday that a lot has changed since he first spoke to them in December 2009, when he visited West Point to announce the military plans for the war in Afghanistan.
"You’re the first class to graduate since 9/11 who may not be sent into combat in Iraq or Afghanistan," Obama said.
"When I first spoke at West Point in 2009, we still had more than 100,000 troops in Iraq. We were preparing to surge in Afghanistan. Our counterterrorism efforts were focused on al Qaeda’s core leadership - those who had carried out the 9/11 attacks. And our nation was just beginning a long climb out of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression," Obama said.
He continued, "Four and a half years later, as you graduate, the landscape has changed. We have removed our troops from Iraq. We are winding down our war in Afghanistan. Al Qaeda’s leadership on the border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan has been decimated, and Osama bin Laden is no more. And through it all, we’ve refocused our investments in what has always been a key source of American strength: a growing economy that can provide opportunity for everybody who’s willing to work hard and take responsibility here at home."
It wasn’t all military talk though. Obama congratulated the class of 2014, as they took their place in the Long Gray Line. He acknowledged many of the graduates, including the first all-female command team - Erin Mauldin and Austen Boroff. He pointed out Rhodes Scholar Calla Glavin. And being a basketball fan, he had to acknowledge Army senior guard Josh Herbeck, saying, "[He] proves that West Point accuracy extends beyond the three-point line."
Obama also reassured the graduates, as Commander-in-Chief, "I hereby absolve all cadets who are on restriction for minor conduct offenses." Obama commented that nobody ever did that for him when he was in school.
And in keeping with the West Point tradition, the graduation speaker was presented with a gift by class President Jeffrey Ferebee. He presented President Obama with a commemorative battle ring, which was similar to the one given to President John F. Kennedy at the 1962 graduation.
Obama then presented diplomas to honor graduates and other top-ranked cadets, but remained on stage to shake hands with all the graduates, including the goat [nickname for the cadet with the lowest GPA], Matthew Mayeaux.