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The Citadel
Charleston, South Carolina

5:02 P.M. EST

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Well, to Governor McMaster, First Lady Peggy McMaster, Deputy Secretary Zais, General Walters, state legislators, distinguished guests: It is great and it is an honor to be at the Military College of South Carolina, The Citadel.  (Applause.)

I want to thank you all.  I want to thank you all for that warm welcome, for this inspiring view.  And I also want to thank — and I want to thank the leader of the Corps of Cadets, Cadet Colonel Ben Snyder, and all of you for this kind recognition.  It means a great deal to me, and I look forward to displaying it at the home of the Vice President of the United States with great pride.

I really couldn’t be more grateful to address such an extraordinary group of young men and women.  And as a small token of my appreciation, I have instructed the Commandant to extend amnesty for all qualified candidates — (applause) — effective immediately.  (Applause.)

Thank you, General.  It really is an honor to be here with so many inspiring young Americans and so many people that have made such a difference in the life of this historic institution.

There’s a couple of people that I have to mention, particularly a fella I’ve known for many, many years.  He served in Congress, from the great state of Indiana.  I know he is a distinguished graduate of The Citadel and he’s one of the greatest champions of this institution anywhere in America.  Would you join me in thanking former Congressman Steve Buyer for a lifetime of service?  (Applause.)

And I also had the pleasure today of meeting an American with an extraordinary lifetime of accomplishments — past, present, and future.  She was, in fact, the first woman to ever graduate from The Citadel.  Join me in thanking State Representative Nancy Mace.  Nancy?  (Applause.)  It really is great to be here with so many distinguished people from all across the great state of South Carolina.  So many friends.

And allow me, before I get started, to bring greetings from another friend of mine: a great champion of all of the men and women who serve in the Armed Forces of the United States of America.  I bring greetings from the 45th President of the United States of America, President Donald Trump.  (Applause.)

Before I begin, allow me to address an issue that I know is on the hearts of people all across South Carolina today.  And as your Vice President and as a father, let me say we were deeply saddened to receive word this afternoon that the remains of Faye Swetlik, a six-year-old girl who went missing from her parents’ front yard just three days ago, have been found.

And few moments ago, I spoke on the phone with FBI Director Christopher Wray, and I have assured Governor McMaster that he will continue to have the full resources of the federal government made available in this investigation.  We will continue to work closely with state and local authorities to hold any to account who are responsible for this heinous crime.

But I would just urge everyone in South Carolina: Hug your kids today, and keep this little girl and her family and her community in your prayers.

It is great to be back in South Carolina.  And as I said, it’s a special honor to be here today at The Citadel for my very first visit, where you all and those who came before you represent generations who have stood strong in defense of freedom for nearly two centuries.

It is remarkable to think that, 200 years ago, South Carolina militiamen were drilling just outside the old Citadel’s grounds — proud citizen-soldiers all, who dedicated themselves to the principles enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and secured in our Constitution.

But more remarkable still was the decision by the state legislature in 1842 to take the guard house it had built on those grounds only a few years before and to convert it into an institution of higher learning.

And ever since then, the men and women of the South Carolina’s Corps of Cadets have added to the honor of this state and our nation.

Citadel graduates have served in every armed conflict since the Mexican War.  They fired on the federal steamship that tried to reinforce Fort Sumter.  They sailed with the first American convoys to Europe in World War I.  And during World War II, your cadets enlisted in the armed forces at a higher rate than any other civilian college in America.  (Applause.)

One of your alumni, Horace Crouch, was one of the Doolittle Raiders, and your Class of 1944 is known as the class that never was.  Of the 565 cadets who started, almost every last one of them entered the military during the war.  The Citadel continued to serve our nation with 76 of your graduates, giving the ultimate sacrifice in Vietnam.

But just as important as the lives you fought to defend are the ideals you sought to preserve: that of the citizen-soldier — always disciplined, always honest, and always true to your core values, “honor, duty, respect.”  They are the hallmarks of every graduate of The Citadel.  (Applause.)

And so I come here today, on behalf of the President of the United States and a grateful nation, simply to commend each and every one of you.  Men and women of your caliber could’ve gone to any school in the nation, but you chose the harder path.  Even when you were a lowly “knob,” you swore to uphold The Citadel honor code that the “Cadet does not lie, cheat or steal, nor tolerate those who do.”

So whether you hail from Bravo Beach — (applause) — or you drill with the Summerall Guards — (applause) —


THE VICE PRESIDENT:  — or even if you’re one of those “heartbreaker, lifetaker” types in R Company — (applause) — the people of South Carolina and  America couldn’t be more proud of each and every one of you.  Give all of yourselves a round of applause.  (Applause.)

The South Carolina Corps of Cadets truly is full of amazing Americans, like a senior in Kilo Company, Army ROTC graduate from American Samoa.

I’m told that when she was growing up, she used to help her family take care of her great-grandmother, and that experience inspired her to become a nurse.

But when she was debating where to go to college, it didn’t take her long to decide where to go.  Her father had served in the U.S. Army for nearly 30 years, and she was drawn to The Citadel’s sense of discipline and accountability, as I was told.

And she made the most of her opportunities here.  Today, she is a Gold Star/Deans List cadet, and her parents and her community couldn’t be more proud.  Would you join me in recognizing an incredible young woman who, this May, will become The Citadel’s first Army nurse, Cadet AnaMalae Tia?  Where are you, AnaMalae?  (Applause.)

Or like another member of this corps, like a pre-med biology major from, actually, Irmo, South Carolina.  Last year, I’m told, he was named one of the top 10 Army ROTC cadets in America, and it’s not hard to see why.

A member of the Phi Kappa Phi Academic Honor Society, Pre-Med Society, and even the Citadel Flying Club.  And just before he graduates in May, he’s going to accept a commission in the United States Army.  Join me in thanking and recognizing Cadet Paul Rhyne.  Where are you, Paul?  (Applause.)

The truth is, AnaMalae and Paul are just emblematic of each and every one of you.  You all have your own stories.  You all answered your own calling to be here.  You answered the call of citizen-soldiers sworn to uphold the highest ideals.

In a few months, for many of you, your future will begin.  Many of you will go into the Armed Forces of the United States.  Others of you will begin careers in the American workforce and the private sector.  But I have every confidence, as the Commandant does, and all of these great alumni do, that all of you will bring with you the Code of Honor that you learned here at The Citadel.

And to those of you that are graduating, I’m proud to report to you that, thanks to the leader of President Donald Trump, the America that awaits your energies and ambitions is experiencing a new era of optimism.  They say timing is everything.  For the Class of 2020, you’ve got great timing, because the American economy is booming.  (Applause.)  It’s true.

From the first day of our administration, President Trump promised to revive the American economy.  And we went straight to work with strong partners like Governor Henry McMaster and statehouses across the country, with great allies like Senator Lindsey Graham and Senator Tim Scott.

We cut taxes across the board for working families, businesses large and small.  We’ve rolled back more federal red tape than any administration in American history.  We unleashed American energy.  We fought for free and fair trade.

And in little more than three years, businesses large and small have created 7 million new jobs across this country, including 121,000 jobs right here in South Carolina.  (Applause.)

The unemployment rate is at nearly a 50-year low, and more Americans working today than ever before in the history of this country.  Now, many of you will enter that economy and there’s — there are opportunities for women and women of integrity as never before in this economy.  So, get ready.  Get ready to bring everything you’ve learned here into those new opportunities.

Now, some of you will go into private sector jobs and some of you will go into public service.  Some of you will follow the path of your extraordinary teachers and professors here.  And why don’t we give them a round of applause?  This is an incredible faculty.  (Applause.)

Some of you, we hope, will find your way into public life and serve in public office, as many of the people gathered with us today have done to serve your country and to stand up for the ideals that you learned here at The Citadel.

You know, I can report, in my 12 years in the Congress of the United States, it was actually my honor to serve alongside three graduate of The Citadel during my tenure.  Not only Congressman Steve Buyer, but Congressman Gresham Barrett and Senator Fritz Hollings — all proud graduates of The Citadel and all great and distinguished public servants.  (Applause.)

So opportunities will abound for all of you that will graduate this year and all of you that will graduate in the years ahead.

But, of course, The Citadel has a long and storied tradition of preparing cadets not just for careers and lives in private life and in business and in enterprise and in education and in public service, but there’s an extraordinary tradition here of military service.  Upon graduation, I’m actually told by the Commandant that approximately one third of you will receive a commission in the United States Armed Forces.  And on behalf of our Commander-in-Chief, you have the thanks of the American people for stepping forward to serve our nation.  (Applause.)  Thank you all.

But here at The Citadel, all of you know, the Armed Forces of the United States is the greatest force for good the world has ever known.  (Applause.)

As many of you prepare to join that force, let me say, as your Vice President and as the proud father of a United States Marine, I couldn’t be more proud to serve alongside a President who cares so deeply about the men and women of our armed forces and their families.

From the earliest days of our administration, President Trump has taken decisive action to make the strongest military in the history of the world stronger still.  We’re giving our armed forces — soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coast Guard — the resources and support they need to accomplish their mission and defend this nation.

In our first year in office, President Trump actually signed the largest increase in our national defense in a generation, including the largest pay raise for men and women in our armed forces in more than 10 years.

And as the President said in his historic State of the Union Address just a little more than a week ago: In his words, “We have purchased the finest planes…rockets, ships, and every other…military equipment.”  Our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coast Guard will have the best, and it’ll all be made right here in the USA.  (Applause.)

So let me say to all of you who will choose to step up, raise your right hand, and take that oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic, I’ll make your promise — what the world knows well, what every American in uniform knows: You will have a Commander-in-Chief who will always have your back.  (Applause.)

We’ve stood strong.  We’ve stood for a strong national defense.  But all of you here know — and all of your training here, the discipline that you’ve learned, the academic work you’ve done in these hallways, you all know already: The strength of our military ultimately comes from the care, courage, and character of the men and women who serve.
You know, it’s always humbling for me to have the opportunity to address men and women in our armed forces and those who have served and those who will serve — because, you see, my life didn’t take me into the uniform of the United States, but I’m the proud son of a United States Army combat veteran.  Lieutenant Edward J. Pence fought in combat in Korea.  He came home with some medals on his chest and they promptly went in the drawer.  And my dad always said the heroes in the Korean War were the ones that didn’t come home.

Really, I was raised to have a deep sense of humility and gratitude — the gratitude that every American feels for the men and women who step forward to defend us.

And I am, in fact, among the millions of Americans who have lived beneath and enjoyed the freedom that generations who have passed through The Citadel have secured.  And so I’m really here to pay a debt of gratitude.  You know, the Good Book says: If you owe debts, pay debts; if honor, then honor; if respect, then respect.

And I’m here, as a family member of those who are serving and who did serve, to say on behalf of a grateful nation: The American people are grateful to each and every one of you and all the extraordinary men and women of The Citadel.  (Applause.)

So on behalf of your Commander-in-Chief, to those of you who will put on the uniform and all those who will serve in other ways in this state and this nation, let me close with an admonition to all of you: What you’ve learned in this place, what you’ve seen and heard in those that you admire here, carry into the here carry into the next chapter of your life.  What you’ve learned here at The Citadel, put into practice, whatever your next calling.  And be servant leaders wherever you’re called to serve.

You have, in no small way, learned the habits of heroes.  You’ve also learned the habits of leadership.  And now, someday soon, you’ll join the illustrious line of graduates and you — all of you, we know, will find a way to serve this nation.

And so, I want to challenge you: Be a leader.  More than anything else, this nation is in need of men and women who will step forward and lead.  But remember, as you lead, make sure that you’re, every day, working to develop the inner-man and the inner-women to be the kind of leader people will follow.  In a word: Be men and women of integrity.  People follow leaders they trust.

You know, over the course of my life, I have concluded that three of some of the most important qualities in any human endeavor are humility, orientation to authority, and self-control.  And they’re all things you’ve learned here at The Citadel.

Many of you will enter the service as officers, but others of you will move to other positions of leadership and service.  And, right now, I think you should decide that you will do so with an attitude of humility.  Consider others as more important than yourself.  Approach every problem as a listener.

A proverb in the Old Book says that, “One who puts on his armor should not boast like one who takes it off.”  Those of you who serve, and those of you who are called perhaps someday into conflict, should approach it with the same attitude.  I mean, the best decisions are made through counsel and collaboration.  Have the humility to listen.  It is the essence of strong leadership.

Second is “orientation to authority.”  You learned it here; carry it from here.  Like the centurion who told the Nazarene that he was “a man under authority,” so many of you will be men and women under authority.  So I admonish you, those who will put on the uniform: Respect the unified chain of command.  Submit yourself to the authorities placed above you.  Trust your superiors.  Trust your orders.  And, through your actions, help those that are leading you to be better leaders as well.

And finally, as you’re — you’ve gone through some rigorous years of training here at The Citadel — a time of great personal discipline — I challenge each one of you: Don’t lose that.  Discipline is the foundation of all accomplishment.  Be an example of self-discipline to the men and women you lead, whether that’s in our armed forces or whether in private life.  You’ll inspire them by your discipline without saying a word.

To lead others, you must lead yourself first.  And so cultivate — cultivate self-discipline.  It wasn’t just for The Citadel; it’s for a lifetime of accomplishment.  Cultivate all of these virtues, carry them from here, as you’ve already begun to do in this great school.  And I know, like so many generations before, the men and women gathered here will lead lives of consequence and distinction.

So, lead with integrity.  Be an example to those around you.  Serve with honor.  Take care of all of those that are ever under your care and set a personal and professional example.

And never forget: To whom much is given, much will be required.  Here at The Citadel, you have been given an exceptional education.  Your parents made it possible.  Your teachers and instructors have poured a strong foundation in your life.  Now go stand on that foundation and build a life to the betterment of this state and this nation.

And to those of you who will put on the uniform of the United States, as I was preparing to come today, I had a little devotional time and I just happened to be reading a proverb that I thought was particularly fitting.  And I’d encourage each of you to remember these words.  Those of you that will be called to wear the uniform, those of you who are willing to step forward in harm’s way, just remember: “No king is saved by the size of his army; no warrior escapes by his great strength.  A horse is a vain hope for deliverance…But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love.”

So from me to you, I encourage you to carry everything you have learned from here and put your trust in Him, He will ever guide you and protect you.

So thank you for the honor of being with you today.  It’s the greatest honor of my life to serve as your Vice President.  And I leave here today and I look at all of your shining faces, these impressive students, this extraordinary institution — I am just more confident than ever that as long as we have men and women with the courage to serve and step forward on freedom’s ramparts, as long as we have heroes who count our lives as more important than their own in the service of freedom, as long as we have patriots like all of you, we will protect this nation, we will defend our freedom, and we will forge together a future of security, prosperity, and peace for ourselves and for generations to come.

So may God bless The Citadel and all who pass through these halls.  God bless you all.  And God bless America.  (Applause.)


5:28 P.M. EST