Lindsey Toomer, Colorado Newsline
President Joe Biden gave a commencement address during a ceremony Thursday at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. He congratulated each member of the class of 2023 after they received diplomas in the academy’s 65th graduation ceremony.
Hundreds of families crowded into Falcon Stadium on the Air Force Academy campus under a cloudy sky, supporting the graduating class as cadets celebrated their work over the last four years. After delivering the commencement address, Biden shook hands with all 921 graduates before they took the oath of office, officially becoming second lieutenants.
Cadets attend the Air Force Academy for four years and upon graduation receive a bachelor’s degree and are eligible to enter careers with either the Air Force or Space Force. The academy operates as a military organization as well as a university, with a combination of experiences common at both typical military bases and civilian universities.
In his address, Biden emphasized to the graduates that they are not just commissioning into the Air Force or Space Force — rather they are entering a joint force that he said works closely to defend the U.S. He credited the families of the graduating class for supporting them throughout their lives and time at the academy.
“You taught them how to stand up, never bow, never bend, never yield,” Biden said. “You inspired them to put integrity first, to choose service over self — it sounds like hyperbole, but it’s literally what you did — to pursue excellence in all they do. But I know you’re bursting with pride at what they’ve already accomplished.”
The president also gave a shout out to the academy graduates who he works with daily, including his Air Force One pilots and his Air Force and Space Force military aides.
“It’s no exaggeration to say I trust my life through academy graduates,” Biden said.
Lt. Gen. Richard Clark, superintendent of the Air Force Academy, explained the significance of a graduating class’s exemplar — someone whose qualities the class hopes to emulate, chosen in its first year. The class of 2023’s exemplar is Lt. Col. Leo Thorsness, a fighter pilot in the Vietnam War who received the Medal of Honor for his service. Every time a speaker said “class of 2023” throughout the ceremony, the graduates chanted “Thor” in his honor.
“When one of his wingmen was shot down, despite extreme danger and personal risk, he decided to stay and to protect his wingmen and to protect the rescue effort,” Clark said. “Like Leo Thorsness, you did not falter and you did not fail. You saw challenges like no other class before you.”
Cadets in the class of 2023 were sent home their first year as the coronavirus pandemic shut down universities across the country and transferred to virtual learning in 2020.
Second Lt. Haley Deome, who was one of the distinguished graduates from the class of 2023, said she was “stoked” to be able to celebrate and witness a Thunderbirds aerial demonstration alongside her friends in celebrating their accomplishments.
“My family is here to support me and it just feels ecstatic to be in this arena right now, to finally be done and be ready to go out and serve,” Deome said. Using an acronym for President of the United States, she added, “It’s the highest honor to have POTUS shake your hand and say he’s proud of you. That’s a very special moment, and I’m so grateful to be commissioned under him at my ceremony.”
Biden’s address touched on other topics, including Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the support the U.S. is giving Ukraine, his nomination of Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and his son’s experience in the military.
After greeting and congratulating the final graduate in the class, Biden tripped over a black sand bag on stage and fell before being helped up by surrounding officials. The White House said the president is fine after the fall.
Following Biden’s address, the graduating class’s highest achievers were recognized, each graduate received their diploma, the USAFA Band performed the “Air Force Song” and “Space Force Song,” and the Air Force Thunderbirds flew over the stadium as the graduates tossed their hats in the air. Children at the graduation ceremony gathered on the field to grab a hat, which they could take home with them.
“You’re part of the greatest fighting force in the history of the world,” Biden told the graduates. “As your Commander-in-Chief, I’m honored to be here as you take on the duties of serving and defending our nation.”
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