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Vice President Mike Pence on Saturday told 2020 Air Force Academy graduates that they will inspire Americans with the confidence that the country can overcome the “invisible enemy” in the form of the coronavirus crisis sweeping the nation.
“We gather at a time of national crisis as the coronavirus epidemic impacts our nation and the wider world,” he said. “For the first time in our history, every state and territory in our nation are under disaster declarations.”
Pence spoke at a relatively scaled-down ceremony in Colorado Springs, where cadets sat 8 feet apart in line with social distancing guidelines. Falcon Stadium, which can normally fit more than 46,000 people, was this time closed to visitors — including family and friends.
With the effects of the pandemic on display, Pence referred a number of times to the virus, recognizing its challenges but also striking an optimistic note about how Americans would face the challenge — comparing it to past enemies such as the attack on Pearl Habor during World War II.
“And I believe with all my heart that for Americans looking on from around the country at this very hour, seeing you brave men and women setting off on your mission to defend this nation, then on this day you’ll also inspire confidence that we will prevail against the invisible enemy in our time, as well,” he said.
Separately, he said that America “is being tested,” that Americans had risen to the challenge, and that “we will heal our land.”
“The American people have risen to the challenge, they like you have met this moment with courage, resilience and strength — the same strength and love of country that carried each of you to this day — and it is that strength that will carry our nation through these challenging times to be stronger than ever before,” he said.
The Associated Press reported that Pence was initially meant to speak to the academy’s graduates via recorded video, as military officials, who moved up the commencement because of the pandemic, doubted Pence would want to travel. But White House aides said Pence on Monday made the call himself to make the trip as the White House was finalizing its guidelines for reopening American again.
He will travel to Wisconsin on Tuesday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.