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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
June 19, 2006
President Delivers Commencement Address at the United States Merchant Marine Academy
Captain Tomb Field at Brooks Stadium
United States Merchant Marine Academy
Kings Point, New York
10:07 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you for the warm welcome -- if you know what I mean. (Laughter.) Admiral Stewart, Secretary Mineta, members of the United States Congress, Academy staff and faculty, distinguished guests, proud family members, and most importantly, the Class of 2006. I'm honored to be the first President to address the United States Merchant Marine Academy. I know that a presidential visit to Kings Point has been a long time in coming. And, Admiral, I hope it's worth the wait. (Laughter and applause.)
This is a proud moment for the Class of 2006. You have worked hard for this day. You sweated through the hardest indoc in Academy history; you braved the Jamaican beef patties of Delano Hall -- (applause.) You spent a year when your classroom was a ship and your campus the Seven Seas; you've made it through endless drills on the Grinder; you've survived the restriction musters that come with missing the train back from Manhattan. (Applause.) This fall, your football team brought home the Secretaries Cup by beating the Coast Guard. (Applause.) You've rung the bell outside Wiley Hall. And the words etched in your class ring affirm your commitment to teamwork: "Not for you, not for me, but for us." Your parents are proud of you, your teachers are proud of you, and this Academy is proud of you. On behalf of the American people, I congratulate you on a fine achievement, and I thank you for choosing to serve the United States of America. (Applause.)
This morning, I flew here on Air Force One with my friend, Andy Card. You might remember Andy -- he was my former chief of staff, and he attended this Academy in the 1960s. (Applause.) It just so happens when he was a plebe, he was stuffed in a duffel bag and run up the flagpole. (Laughter.) I know he appreciates the much warmer welcome he received here today. (Laughter.)
Secretary Card also reminded me that the President of the United States has the authority to lift all demerits and restrictions. So I bring you a graduation present. (Laughter.) In keeping with the longstanding tradition at our nation's service academies, I hereby absolve all midshipmen who are on restriction for minor conduct offenses -- I leave it to Admiral Stewart to define exactly what "minor" means. (Laughter and applause.)
Life at this Academy is demanding -- and it is meant to be. America is a great maritime power, and our Merchant Marine has a vital role to play. In times of peace, the Merchant Marine helps ensure our economic security by keeping the oceans open to trade. In times of war, the Merchant Marine is the lifeline of our troops overseas, carrying critical supplies, equipment, and personnel. For more than six decades, the mission of this Academy has been to graduate highly skilled mariners to serve America's economic and national security needs. To train you for these responsibilities, this Academy sharpens your mind, it strengthens your body, and builds up your character. The Academy has made you strong and instilled respect for the Kings Point motto -- Acta Non Verba -- "Deeds, Not Words."
"Deeds, Not Words" was the hallmark of this Academy in World War II. In the early years of the war, America's efforts to supply our allies in Europe were threatened by the U-boats that were sinking American ships faster than we could build them. The need to arm and defend our merchant ships was urgent, and King Pointers answered the call. One of them was an 18-year-old named Edwin O'Hara, whose statue stands not far from here. In September 1942, Cadet O'Hara was serving on the USS Stephen Hopkins when it came under attack from two Nazi raiders. After the entire gun crew of the Hopkins was killed by enemy fire, O'Hara singlehandedly served and fired the last five shells in the ready box, scoring direct hits on the German warship Stier. Cadet O'Hara was mortally wounded in the action, but not before he helped send the Stier to the bottom of the South Atlantic.
Edwin O'Hara is one of 142 Academy graduates who gave their lives in the second world war. Today Kings Point is still the only one of our five service academies that sends its students into the theaters of war -- and for that reason, it is the only Academy authorized to fly a Battle Standard. (Applause.)
"Deeds, Not Words" was your response on the morning of September the 11th, 2001. From this campus, every man and woman could see the black smoke rising from the Twin Towers. Within hours, your midshipmen were working side-by-side with the Coast Guard and marine division of the New York City Fire Department. Over the next nine days, you moved firefighters and police and emergency response teams into Ground Zero. You moved tons of food and water and supplies. The heroic response to that terrible day showed the spirit of America -- and the spirit of this fine Academy. And I thank you for your service. (Applause.)
"Deeds, Not Words" defines the Academy's role in the global war on terror. Your cadets are forward deployed in the Middle East, where they're supporting operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Your Global Maritime and Transportation School is providing advanced training in areas from marine engineering to port security for military units like the Navy Seabees and Surface Warfare Officers. And your graduates are serving our nation in every branch of our Armed Services, as sailors projecting American combat power across the Earth; as Marines and soldiers leading platoons from Khandahar to Tikrit; as Coast Guard officers securing our homeland; and as airmen delivering justice to terrorists hiding in safe houses and caves. In the global war on terror, the men and women of this Academy are making a difference on every front -- and the American people are grateful for your service. (Applause.)
To win the war on terror, we will continue to build and strengthen ties with our friends and allies across the world. America's alliance with Europe is a key pillar of our strategy for victory. And tomorrow, Laura and I will depart on my 15th trip to Europe since I have taken office. This visit comes at a critical moment for America and our allies. We have important decisions to make that will affect the prospects for peace and prosperity across the world. And today I'm going to talk to you about the objectives I will pursue on this important trip.
My first stop will be Vienna, where I will attend the annual summit between the United States and the European Union. And then I'm going to travel to Budapest to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution. And I'm really looking forward to the trip. Americans have strong ties to the European people. We have warm friendships with European nations. And on my trip this week, we will strengthen our close and growing partnership with the European Union.
America's partnership with the European Union grows from sturdy roots -- our common love of freedom, and our commitment to democratic principles. Those of you graduating today have grown up with a Europe whose major powers are at peace with one another. Yet in the sweep of history, this is a dramatic change. There was a time in history when Europe was the site of bloody conflicts and bitter rivalries. As recently as the last century, Europe was the site of two devastating world wars. Now, because generations have sacrificed for liberty and built strong democracies, the nations of Europe are partners in common union, and neighbors on a continent that's whole, free, and at peace.
A free and peaceful Europe is one of the great achievements of the past century. My generation, and yours, will be judged by what comes next. So America and Europe must work together to advance freedom and democracy. We will cooperate to expand trade and prosperity. We will strengthen our efforts to combat terrorism. And we will stand together to stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. (Applause.)
Our work begins with a common commitment to extending the reach of freedom and democracy. On Prime Minister Blair's recent visit to America, he said: "The governments of the world do not all believe in freedom. But the people of the world do." As people who have secured our own freedom, America and Europe have a duty to help others do the same. (Applause.) We're fulfilling that duty together in Belarus, where we support the reformers seeking to erase the stain of dictatorship from Europe. We're fulfilling that duty together in Georgia and Ukraine, where we stand with brave people striving to consolidate democratic gains. We're fulfilling that duty together in the Balkans, where people who have suffered so much have made a choice to live in liberty, and should be welcomed as a part of Europe in the 21st century.
As we saw on September the 11, 2001, the actions of a repressive regime thousands of miles away can have a direct impact on our own security. In this new century, the loss of freedom anywhere is a blow to freedom everywhere. And when freedom advances, people gain an alternative to violence, and the prospects for peace are multiplied and all nations become more secure. So America and Europe have launched bold initiatives to aid democratic reformers across the world, especially in the broader Middle East. We've worked with the United Nations to end the Syrian occupation of Lebanon -- and we will not rest until the Lebanese people enjoy full independence. (Applause.) We're determined to end the conflict in the Holy Land and bring about a solution with two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side-by-side in peace and security. (Applause.)
Our shared commitment to extending freedom and democracy is clear in Afghanistan and Iraq. Together America and Europe have helped bring about a historic transformation in those countries. Two of the world's most dangerous regimes have been removed from power, and the world is better off for it. (Applause.) Al Qaida's training camps have been closed in Afghanistan. Al Qaida's leader in Iraq has been killed. (Applause.) Two violent dictatorships are being replaced with growing democracies that answer to their people, that respect their neighbors, and that serve as allies in the war on terror. Afghanistan and Iraq are taking their rightful place in the free world -- and America and Europe must work tirelessly to help them succeed. (Applause.)
One week ago today, I left Camp David and flew to the capital of a free and democratic Iraq. (Applause.) In Baghdad I met with Prime Minister Maliki and members of his cabinet. The Prime Minister is a man of strong character; he has a clear and practical plan to lead his country forward. He briefed me on the immediate steps he's taking to improve security in Baghdad, to build up Iraq's economy and to reach out to the international community.
The formation of a new government and successful raids on al Qaeda targets in Iraq have created a moment of opportunity. Iraqis must seize this moment -- and we will help them succeed. I assured the Prime Minister that when America gives a commitment, America will keep its word. (Applause.) By helping Prime Minister Maliki's new government achieve its aims, we will expand opportunity for all the Iraqi people, we will inflict a major defeat on the terrorists, and we will show the world the power of a thriving democracy in the heart of the Middle East. (Applause.)
A free and sovereign Iraq requires the strong support of Europe. And some of the most important support for Iraqis is coming from European democracies with recent memories of tyranny -- Poland and Hungary and Romania and Bulgaria and the Czech Republic and Slovakia, Georgia, Ukraine, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. Others in Europe have had disagreements with our decisions on Iraq. Yet we've all watched the Iraqi people stand up for their freedom -- and we agree that the success of a democratic government in Baghdad is vital for the Iraqis and for the security of the world.
The European Union has been the world's most -- among the world's most generous financial donors for reconstruction in Iraq. And Europe and America will encourage greater international support to help Prime Minister Maliki implement his plans for recovery. The international community has pledged about $13 billion to help this new government. Yet only $3.5 billion has been paid. This is a critical time for Iraq's young democracy, and assistance from the international community will make an immediate difference. All nations that have pledged money have a responsibility to keep their pledges -- and America and Europe will work together to ensure they do so. (Applause.)
America and Europe also stand together in our determination to widen the circle of prosperity. We're cooperating on projects to develop clean, secure energy sources, especially alternatives to fossil fuel. (Applause.) On the continent of Africa, we're working to strengthen democracy, relieve debt, fight disease, and end the genocide in Darfur. (Applause.) At the World Trade Organization, we're working to lower trade barriers by concluding the Doha talks. America has made a bold proposal to eliminate trade-distorting agriculture subsidies and tariffs -- and I call on Europe to join us, so we can set an example of free and fair trade for the world. (Applause.) By spreading prosperity, America and Europe will create new opportunities for our people, to help alleviate poverty, and deliver hope and dignity and progress to millions across the world. (Applause.)
Together America and Europe are laying the foundations for a future of peace and prosperity. And yet the terrorists are threatening this progress. So at our summit this week, we'll take new steps to strengthen our cooperation on counterterrorism, to improve transportation security, and to crack down on terrorist financing. And we will renew our commitment to support the voices of peace and moderation in the Muslim world, to help provide a hopeful alternative to radicalism. America and Europe must stand united in this war on terror. (Applause.) By being steadfast, and by being strong, we will defeat the enemies of freedom. (Applause.)
America and Europe are also united on one of the most difficult challenges facing the world today, the behavior of the regime in Iran. The leaders of Iran sponsor terror, deny liberty and human rights to their people, and threaten the existence of our ally, Israel. And by pursuing nuclear activities that mask its effort to acquire nuclear weapons, the regime is acting in defiance of its treaty obligations, of the United Nations Security Council, and of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Nuclear weapons in the hands of this regime would be a grave threat to people everywhere.
I've discussed the problem of the Iranian regime extensively with leaders in Europe, particularly in Great Britain and Germany and France. I've also consulted closely with the Presidents of Russia and China. We've all agreed on a unified approach to solve this problem diplomatically. The United States has offered to come to the table with our partners and meet with Iran's representatives -- as soon as the Iranian regime fully and verifiably suspends its uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities. (Applause.) Iran's leaders have a clear choice. We hope they will accept our offer and voluntarily suspend these activities, so we can work out an agreement that will bring Iran real benefits. If Iran's leaders reject our offer, it will result in action before the Security Council, further isolation from the world, and progressively stronger political and economic sanctions.
I've a message for the Iranian regime: America and our partners are united. We have presented a reasonable offer. Iran's leaders should see our proposal for what it is -- an historic opportunity to set their country on a better course. If Iran's leaders want peace and prosperity and a more hopeful future for their people, they should accept our offer, abandon any ambitions to obtain nuclear weapons, and come into compliance with their international obligations.
I've a message for the Iranian people: The United States respects you and your country. We admire your rich history, your vibrant culture, and your many contributions to civilization. When Cyrus the Great led the Iranian people more than 2,500 years ago, he delivered one of the world's first declarations of individual rights, including the right to worship God in freedom. Through the centuries, Iranians have achieved distinction in medicine and science and poetry and philosophy, and countless other fields.
In the 21st century, the people of Iran, especially the talented and educated youth, are among the world's leaders in science and technology. Iranians have a large presence on the Internet, and a desire to make even greater progress, including the development of civilian nuclear energy. This is a legitimate desire. We believe the Iranian people should enjoy the benefits of a truly peaceful program to use nuclear reactors to generate electric power. So America supports the Iranian people's rights to develop nuclear energy peacefully, with proper international safeguards.
The people of Iran, like people everywhere, also want and deserve an opportunity to determine their own future, an economy that rewards their intelligence and talents, and a society that allows them to pursue their dreams. I believe Iranians would thrive if they were given more opportunities to travel and study abroad, and do business with the rest of the world. Here in the United States, Iranian Americans have used their freedom to advance in society and make tremendous contributions in areas from business to medicine, to academics.
To help provide more opportunities for the people of Iran, we will look for new ways to increase contact between Americans and Iranians, especially in education and culture, sports and tourism. We'll provide more than $75 million this year to promote openness and freedom for the Iranian people. These funds will allow us to expand and improve radio and television broadcasts to the people of Iran. These funds will support Iranian human rights advocates and civil society organizations. And these funds will promote student and faculty exchanges, so we can build bridges of understanding between our people.
Americans believe the future of Iran will be decided by the people of Iran -- and we believe that future can be one of progress and prosperity and achievement. We look forward to the day when our nations are friends, and when the people of Iran enjoy the full fruits of liberty, and play a leading role to establish peace in our world. (Applause.)
The advance of freedom is the calling of our time -- and the men and women of the United States Merchant Marine Academy are answering that call. In a few moments, you'll walk through Vickery Gate and leave the Academy that's been your home. You leave with a bachelor's degree, a license as a Merchant Marine officer, and a commission in one of the branches of our Armed Services. And you leave with something else: The great truth that duty and honor and courage are not just words; they are virtues that sustain a free people, people who are determined to live under self-government. They're the virtues that will be your anchor and compass in a life of purpose and service. These are the virtues that America demands of those entrusted with leading her sons and daughters in uniform. And these are the virtues that America has come to expect from the blue and grey.
We see the devotion to duty and honor and country in the life of one of this Academy's finest graduates, Aaron Seesan. Aaron was an Ohio boy who grew up dreaming of being a soldier. He brought that dream with him to this Academy -- and when he walked through these gates three years ago, he carried on his shoulders the gold bar of a second lieutenant in the United States Army. After entering the Army, Lieutenant Seesan trained as a combat engineer. And he was serving at Fort Lewis, Washington, when a group of soldiers who were based at the fort were struck by a suicide bomb in Iraq. Two of the men were killed. And that's when this young lieutenant volunteered to go to Iraq to take the place of a wounded platoon leader.
When Lieutenant Seesan arrived in Iraq, some of his fellow soldiers wondered what was the Army thinking. His platoon sergeant said, "I didn't know what the hell a Merchant Marine graduate was doing here in the 73rd Engineering Company." The sergeant quickly changed his mind when he saw Lieutenant Seesan in action, taking care of his men as they patrolled the most dangerous roads in and around Mosul. In May 2005, he was leading a routine sweep of a city street when a bomb exploded and hit the fuel tank of his Humvee. Those who were with him recall his last words: "Take charge, Sergeant Arnold, and take care of the others."
He died on May 22 -- on National Maritime Day. For his act of bravery, Lieutenant Seesan was awarded the Bronze Star. And the campus memorial that bears his name will remind all who come here of Kings Point commitment to service above self.
Aaron Seesan gave his life freely. While still in high school, he wrote a poem that now seems prophetic. He wrote, "Mourn not my terrible death, but celebrate my cause in life." Aaron's cause in life was freedom, and as you take your place as officers in our Armed Forces, I ask you to celebrate the freedom for which Aaron fought and died.
America has invested in you, and she has high expectations. My call to you is this: Trust your instincts, and use the skills you were taught here to give back to your nation. Do not be afraid of mistakes; learn from them. Show leadership and character in whatever you do. The world lies before you. I ask you to go forth with faith in America, and confidence in the eternal promise of liberty.
In all that lies ahead, I wish you fair winds and following seas. As I look out at the men and women before me, I will leave here knowing that you will bring honor to our nation, and to this Academy that has prepared you for the challenges you will face. May God steer thee well, Kings Point. And may God bless America. (Applause.)
END 10:39 A.M. EDT