President Obama called on newly minted officers of the Naval Academy Friday to exhibit the highest standards while serving their country, specifically exhorting them to hold themselves and others accountable when problems arise.
After some some initial light-hearted comments, the president’s tone became more serious, urging the midshipmen who would become officers by the end of the ceremony, to rely on the high standards they learned at the academy throughout their careers.
He broadly referred to scandals involving bad behavior and poor judgement by servicemen in Afghanistan and Iraq, and more specifically to a recent spike in sexual assaults in the military. A Pentagon survey released this month estimated that 26,000 military service members experienced some form of “unwanted sexual contact” last year.
“It only takes the misconduct of a few to further erode people’s trust in their government,” Mr. Obama told the graduates at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
“Those who commit sexual assault,” he said, “are not only committing a crime, they threaten the trust and discipline that makes our military strong.”
Many of the midshipmen who became officers Friday will go on to leadership roles in the Navy and Marine Corps, Mr. Obama noted.
“As you go forward in your careers, we need you to carry forth the values that you’ve learned at this institution because our nation needs them now more than ever,” he said.
The president, who has faced his own leadership challenges in recent weeks as multiple scandals have swept over his administration, forcing him to oust several IRS officials, said the graduates would be called on to make difficult leadership decisions when other men and women are looking up to them to set examples.
“Never ask them to do what you don’t ask of yourself,” he said. “Live with integrity and speak with honesty and take responsibility and demand accountability.”
Earlier in his remarks, Mr. Obama commended the midshipmen for their hard work and service over the last four years, he also sprinkled his opening remarks with light-hearted references to off-duty time students have spent at local Annapolis watering holes
“To the entire brigade of midshipmen, you embody the highest virtues of this venerable institution,” he said. “And yet I know that some of you at times have enjoyed yourselves at other local institutions like McGarvey’s and Armadillo’s,” he said to cheers. “But today is a day of celebration and also forgiveness. And so in keeping with the tradition, I declare all midshipmen on restriction for minor conduct offense are hereby absolved.”