AIR FORCE ACADEMY — President Joe Biden spoke to the 2023 graduating class at the Air Force Academy on Thursday, praising the new officers for their resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic and emphasizing the role they will play in a rapidly changing world.
“You made a noble choice to lead a life of service, now you also shoulder a great privilege and mighty responsibility,” Biden said in his 32-minute speech. “The world is going to get more confusing.”
Biden’s remarks came as the sun shone but rain dropped on Falcon Stadium in Colorado Springs during his first presidential address to Air Force cadets.
The president spoke about the war in Ukraine, climate change, the nation’s competition with China and the growing prevalence of artificial intelligence.
LEFT: Class of 2023 Air Force cadets from the U.S. Air Force Academy approach the field during the ceremony Thursday at the Falcon Stadium in Colorado Springs. RIGHT: Class of 2023 Air Force cadets graduate from the U.S. Air Force Academy during the ceremony. (Photos by Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)
TOP: Class of 2023 Air Force cadets from the U.S. Air Force Academy approach the field during the ceremony Thursday at the Falcon Stadium in Colorado Springs. BOTTOM: Class of 2023 Air Force cadets graduate from the U.S. Air Force Academy during the ceremony. (Photos by Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)
“We’ve got a lot to deal with and an incredible opportunity,” he said. “We’re going to count on you to keep us on the forefront of air and space dominance.”
Before taking the podium to address the crowd, Biden strode into the stadium wearing a Navy blue suit, white shirt and blue tie, along with his trademark aviator sunglasses, saluting as he walked on stage. As the graduating cadets entered the stadium, marching in time in a mesmerizing display, the president whistled and clapped.
As he spoke, Biden removed his sunglasses and looked intently at the cadets. They chuckled throughout the speech as Biden cracked Air Force-specific jokes.
“As you leave these mountains, where the air is rare, take with you the confidence that these years have prepared you for whatever is ahead,” he said.
The commander in chief also announced he would waive any minor disciplinary marks against the cadets, garnering whoops and cheers from the graduates.
Biden, 80, stumbled and fell to the stage as diplomas were being handed out to graduates, according to video circulated on Twitter. Several people helped the president to his feet, the video shows.
In photos published by The Associated Press, the president after getting to his feet is seen pointing back toward two sandbags on the stage used to anchor a teleprompter stand.
“He’s fine,” Ben LaBolt, White House communications director, said in a tweet. “There was a sandbag on stage while he was shaking hands.”
Biden greeted graduates for roughly an hour, shaking their hands and saluting them.
LEFT: Class of 2023 Air Force cadets cheer during the ceremony. RIGHT: Cadets perform during the ceremony. (Photography by Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)
TOP: Class of 2023 Air Force cadets cheer during the ceremony. BOTTOM: Cadets perform during the ceremony. (Photography by Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)
His visit comes one day after the Air Force announced that four more Space Force missions will now be based in Colorado Springs, according to The Associated Press. The announcement is the latest indicator of a political battle over the permanent headquarters of the newest branch of the U.S. military.
The Air Force Academy has a space curriculum and also graduates Space Force officers, including 93 in the 2023 class of nearly 1,000.
Biden called the Air Force and Space Force the “the backbone” of the nation’s effort to aid Ukraine — providing coordination, missile warning and air defenses and supporting communications.
LEFT: Cadets during graduation. RIGHT: Graduates cheer and congratulate each other following the ceremony. (Photography by Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)
TOP: Cadets during graduation. BOTTOM: Graduates cheer and congratulate each other following the ceremony. (Photography by Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)
“The American people supporting Ukraine will not waiver. We always stand up for democracies — always,” he said to cheers from the audience.
The president also nodded to ongoing tension with China, saying he hopes the two nations can work together on global threats, including climate change.
But the U.S. is also prepared for “vigorous competition” with China, Biden said. “We will stand up for our friends and our partners.” He pledged to work with G7 countries to minimize threats to the U.S., and to protect developing technologies that are vital to U.S. national security.
The graduating class, which marks the 75th anniversary of women serving in the force, is one of the most diverse ever with the highest ever percentage of women and minorities in any academy class, Biden said.
LEFT: Thunderbirds fly during the graduation ceremony. RIGHT: Cadets perform during the ceremony. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)
TOP: Thunderbirds fly during the graduation ceremony. BOTTOM: Cadets perform during the ceremony. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)
“That’s why we’re strong. That’s why we’re who we are. That’s why we’ll never give up,” he said.
Biden, donning a blue Air Force cap, saluted and shook the hand of each cadet as they received their diploma.
At the end of the ceremony, cadets launched their caps into the air right as the Air Force Thunderbirds, piloting six F-16s, ripped overhead in roaring, blink-of-an-eye flyby. Graduates shouted and hugged in jubilation as they left the stadium.
Biden previously addressed the cadets in 2014 and 2009.
He is the ninth president to speak at an Air Force Academy graduation, following Presidents Donald Trump, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy.
Graduates entering active duty must serve as Air Force officers for at least five years.
The commencement ceremony is the final event after two weeks of celebratory parades, ceremonies and receptions.