Vice President Pence delivers commencement address to Air Force Academy class of 2020 and first cadets to join Space Force
Vice President Mike Pence, the head of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, delivered on Saturday the commencement address to the 62nd class of Air Force Academy graduates, which was modified due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"America is being tested," Pence said. "While there are signs we are making progress in slowing the spread, as we stand here today, more than 700,000 Americans have contracted the coronavirus, and tragically, more than 30,000 of our countrymen have lost our lives."
He added: "But as each of you has shown in your time here, and as the American people always show in challenging times, when hardship comes, American comes together. We rise to the challenge and the courage and compassion and generosity of the nation you will defend are shining through every day."
Pence's remarks came the same day as New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in New York, the US state hardest hit by COVID-19 pandemic, was "past the plateau" as the number of hospitalizations resulting from the novel coronavirus has continued to fall.
The vice president told the graduates they would now "commence [their] duties to defend this nation against all enemies foreign to us," evoking President Trump and calling the novel coronavirus the "invisible enemy."
Pence addressed the academy's 2020 class in person at the Saturday afternoon ceremony, which occurred on US Air Force grounds in Colorado Springs, Colorado despite past reports that the vice president had considered sending pre-taped video remarks in lieu of an in-person appearance, according to CNN.
All gatherings in Colorado are currently prohibited under Gov. Jared Polis' stay-at-home order.
To comply with social distancing, the Air Force Academy graduates marched into the ceremony six feet apart and were seated eight feet apart. No family members or other spectators were allowed to attend the closed ceremony. The ceremony, which lasted about an hour and thirty minutes, was previously scheduled to occur on May 28 but occurred Saturday — six weeks earlier than scheduled.
"You know your family couldn't be here because of the extraordinary times in which we live," Pence said. "We know they're watching from afar."
The ceremony was live-streamed on Facebook and YouTube so spectators could tune-in.
Pence brought attention to the 86 graduates who would become the first Air Force Academy graduates to work as part of President Trump's Space Force, which was officially established at the end of last year.
"We are a nation of courage," the vice president said. "With the courage strength and compassion of the American people, we will get through this. We will protect the most vulnerable and we will heal our land."
He added: "The American people are doing their duty now comes your turn to do yours: to defend the people of this nation, and this we know you will do. For long after the coronavirus is defeated, your mission will go on."
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