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President Joe Biden to give Coast Guard Academy commencement address

New London — President Joe Biden is set to speak during the U.S. Coast Guard Academy's graduation on May 19.

Biden will be giving the keynote address, according to a Coast Guard Academy news release, which was confirmed by the White House. He also spoke to the Coast Guard's graduating class when he was vice president in 2013.

The academy's 140th commencement will take place at 11 a.m. on Cadet Memorial Field. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, fewer people will be allowed to attend the proceedings. Attendees are required to wear masks and social distance.

In case of bad weather, graduation will move inside to Leamy Hall Auditorium. People will be able to livestream the event.

"We are honored to host the Commander-in-Chief as we celebrate the accomplishments of the Class of 2021, the future leaders of the U.S. Coast Guard," Academy Superintendent Rear Adm. Bill Kelly said in the release. "It will be a memorable event for our community, as well as a great opportunity to showcase the Academy and the city of New London on a national stage."

Donald Trump gave his first address as president to a military service academy at the Coast Guard Academy's 2017 graduation. He lauded graduates for choosing a path of service before taking the opportunity to tout his achievements and dismiss criticism of his administration.

"No politician in history, and I say this with great surety, has been treated worse or more unfairly. You can't let them get you down. You can't let the critics and the naysayers get in the way of your dreams," he said at the time.

Biden's 2013 address to Academy graduates recognized the Coast Guard's changing role. Twice in the 25-minute speech at the academy's 132nd commencement exercises, Biden told the class, "This is not your father's Coast Guard."

Now, as officers, they will confront challenges unimaginable years ago, Biden said then. Stateless actors are trying to smuggle weapons into American ports, piracy and human trafficking have reached record levels, deep-sea drilling for oil threatens the nation's shorelines and new ice-free passages are opening in the Arctic, he added.

In 1964, Lyndon B. Johnson was the first president to address graduating cadets. Presidents now deliver commencement speeches to the U.S. military academies on a rotating schedule. Harry S. Truman made the first presidential visit to the Coast Guard Academy in 1952 to tour the academy's grounds.

Johnson and subsequent presidents at commencement discussed the Cold War at its various stages until Bill Clinton in 1996, when the focus shifted to terrorism, as shown by transcripts of the speeches.

Coast Guard Academy Communications Director David Santos said Biden will be the 10th presidential keynote speaker at the school.

"After Johnson, we didn't have another presidential commencement speaker until Ronald Reagan, and then from that point on, every sitting president has come to the academy to serve as our commencement speaker," he said.

Santos said the academy sent an official invitation to Biden to speak at graduation.

"We're excited as always to host the president," he added.

Former President Barack Obama spoke at the Coast Guard Academy twice, in 2011 and 2015. The second time, he made direct and specific references to the academy's host city.

During his State of the Union address in January 2015, Obama mentioned New London when referring to the nation's military service academies. Not everybody got the reference.

"So let me do it again," the president said. "It is a great honor to be back in New London at the United States Coast Guard Academy to salute the newest ensigns of America's oldest continuous maritime service."

s.spinella@theday.com

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