At most any other time in history, it would be perfectly fitting to have the president of the United States address the U.S. Naval Academy’s graduating class. After all, he or she (I can dream) is also the commander in chief and in charge of the armed forces. The president ultimately decides where members will be sent, what they’ll do and, in some cases, when they’ll die.
But these are not normal times. Witness the current occupant of the oval office: Donald J. Trump, a man who turned bankruptcy — both moral and financial — into an art form. Yet address them he shall at 10 a.m. Friday.
Now, a commencement speaker is typically tasked with putting into context the graduates’ many years of study and how the effort relates to their futures and wider roles in the world. Ideally, he or she is selected based on personal and professional achievements that would inspire young people and, in the commencement speech, offers up words of wisdom to help guide them as they transition from undergrad to graduate student or active participant in their fields — in the case of the midshipmen, from officer trainees to officers: leaders in the military.
The best we can hope for from President Trump is that someone else wrote his speech — and that he sticks to it. Something like the one he gave at Liberty University last year, minus the religious stuff, would be fine. That one emphasized conviction, courage, hard work and individuality. He’d do well to stay with those themes in Annapolis — no asides about witch hunts, crooked Hillary or “fake” news. Not today. Just give the midshipmen a ceremony they and their families can get through without being appalled.
That’s the advice for him. Now some advice for them: Ignore the speech, pretend you’re a little kid again and declare it “Opposite Day!” in your mind. Think about his record and his example, then vow to do the exact opposite in your own lives.
Help those less fortunate than yourselves, embrace diversity, respect women (especially if you are one), read books, be curious. Tell the truth; take responsibility for your actions; nurture your relationships; be humble, kind, reasonable and deliberate. Use social media for good (or not at all), exercise and eat well. Don’t trash the planet, take others for granted or tan (to take a page from Mary Schmich’s famous “wear sunscreen” column). In short, be a decent human being who strives to improve yourself and your world.
Be the anti-Trump.
After all, this guy does not give a flying fig about you or your ideals. You volunteered to serve in the military; he ran the other way, first receiving four education-related draft deferments during the Vietnam War and then being disqualified for service based on the alleged presence of “bone spurs” on his then 25-year-old feet (a condition, interestingly, most often associated with age-related osteoarthritis, the symptoms of which appear, on average, around age 47).
He maligned Senator (and Naval Academy graduate) John McCain for being captured as a prisoner of war; insulted the family of slain U.S. soldier Humayun Khan; and told the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, a Green Beret who was killed in an ambush in Niger, that her husband “knew what he signed up for” — then lied about saying it.
That’s your boss now.
It’s not your fault — when you entered the academy four years ago, it was under very different circumstances. How could you have known?
Your real duty is not to him, anyway. It’s to your country and the oath you swear in becoming an officer:
Having been appointed a midshipman in the United States navy, I solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter, so help me God.
Your charge is heavy and honorable, and one that our president himself could not meet.
In fact, he’s the one who needs your advice.
Tricia Bishop is The Sun's deputy editorial page editor. Her column runs every other Friday. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @triciabishop.