US Defense Secretary Delivers Commencement Address at South Carolina State University

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III delivered a commencement address at South Carolina State University, urging graduates to pursue public service. Austin's speech aimed to inspire students, particularly from underrepresented communities, to contribute to the military amid a recruiting slump.

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Aqsa Younas Rana
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US Defense Secretary Delivers Commencement Address at South Carolina State University

US Defense Secretary Delivers Commencement Address at South Carolina State University

On Friday, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III delivered the commencement address to the graduating class of 2024 at South Carolina State University, a historically Black college. Austin emphasized the importance of public service, urging the approximately 250 graduates to "find ways to make change, to contribute, and to be a part of something bigger than yourself."

Austin's call to servicecomes amid a years-long recruiting slump, as the military struggles to fill its ranks. The challenges are attributed to various factors, including young Americans struggling to meet the qualifications for service, low unemployment, and the military's difficulty in pitching service to Gen Z.

Why this matters: The military's struggle to recruit and retain talent has significant implications for national security and the country's ability to respond to global threats. Moreover, the underrepresentation of minorities in top military positions highlights the need for increased diversity and inclusion in the armed forces.

Austin, the first Black defense secretary, shared his personal story of integrating into a whites-only school in Georgia during the Jim Crow era. He emphasized the need to "knock down barriers, to level the playing field, and to let everybody compete to win." Austin's speech aimed to inspire students, particularly from underrepresented communities, to pursue public service.

Black Americans make up nearly 25% of new Army recruits in 2023, but only 14% of the general population. Only about 6% of top brass are Black officers across the military. Austin and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Charles "C.Q." Brown, who is also Black, hold the two highest military offices outside of the president.

The services have made some progress in their recruiting efforts, but the Pentagon is still struggling to find qualified applicants. Only 23% of young Americans can meet enlistment standards, which include physical fitness, passing the military's SAT-style entrance exam, and scoring high enough to qualify for specific roles.

South Carolina State University has a rich history of equipping its students to excel. Notable achievements include training more nuclear engineers than any school in the country, being designated as a center of academic excellence in cyber defense by the National Security Agency, and producing 40% of America's Black engineers, 50% of Black lawyers, 70% of doctors and dentists, and 80% of judges.

Austin concluded his address by emphasizing the importance of unity and public service, stating,"Now, you're graduating in challenging times. Divided times. But so many things still bring us together as Americans. Our Constitution. Our democracy. The rule of law. The new Beyoncé album. "His message aimed to inspire the graduates to make a positive impact in their communities and the nation as they embark on the next chapter of their lives.