Vice President Kamala Harris on Saturday will become the first woman to deliver a commencement address at the U.S. Military Academy, an institution that has made slow progress diversifying its ranks in the four decades since the first class of female cadets graduated.
This year some 950 men and women are expected to take part in the graduation ceremony in West Point, New York.
The vice president plans to make the case that a strong U.S. military is vital to world security and applaud the graduating cadets for their noble sacrifice in serving their country.
“A strong America remains indispensable to the world,” Harris is expected to say, according to prepared remarks provided by the White House. “And, it is this pillar of our strength where you have dedicated yourself to lead.”
While Harris visits West Point, about 60 miles (96 kilometers) north of Manhattan, President Joe Biden heads to Colorado Springs, Colorado, on Thursday to address graduates at the U.S. Air Force Academy.
Vice presidents typically travel to one of the federal service academies to address graduating classes. Harris’ visit will be her first to the U.S. Army academy.
Today, about one quarter of the student body are women. Only a few dozen graduates each year are Black women, like Harris, though the number has ticked up in recent years. The academy didn’t admit women until 1976 and had its first female graduates in 1980.
West Point dates to 1802. Since then, the college has educated future military leaders including Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Gen. George Patton and Presidents Ulysses S. Grant and Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Upon graduation, the cadets will be commissioned as Army second lieutenants.
Last year, Harris addressed graduates at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut. The year before, she spoke at commencement ceremonies for the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.