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Trump Hears Apt Messages At Connecticut Commencement

Ryan Caron King
Homeland Security Secretary General John Kelly addresses Coast Guard cadets at Commencement in New London, closely watched by President Donald Trump

President Donald Trump’s speech at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy Wednesday was closely parsed by the world’s media, as the president continues to face scrutiny over a series of White House scandals. 

But he wasn’t the only person to address the graduating cadets from the podium, and the president heard some interesting messages. 

It wasn’t strictly the academy’s turn for a presidential visit at commencement this year. President Barack Obama was last at the Coast Guard only two years ago.

But Commandant of the Coast Guard Admiral Paul Zunkunft was delighted to have beaten out the likes of West Point and Annapolis.

One reason for his satisfaction: hosting Trump was an excellent opportunity to educate the new president about the mission of the Coast Guard.

Indeed in his own speech, Trump sounded almost giddy at times about the more glamorous aspects of life aboard ship, interdicting illegal drugs, and saving lives.

Zunkunft will hope that enthusiasm translates into financial support for his service when Trump’s first formal budget comes out next week.

He gave the president a "for instance":

"We just freed up money under this administration to finally invest in heavy icebreakers," Zunkunft told the cadets. "We’re going to build six, but we’re on a fast track to build the first one."

Zunkunft will be testifying before the House appropriations committee Thursday about those priorities.

Next to the podium was Trump’s own secretary of Homeland Security, General John Kelly, who first urged the cadets to treat the people under their command well.

“Train them. Mentor them. Defend them. They will do anything you ask them to do,” Kelly said.

Kelly said that as junior officers, they also have a duty to their superiors.

“Tell the truth. Tell the truth to your seniors, even though it’s uncomfortable, even though they may not want to hear it. They deserve that. Tell the truth,” he reiterated.

If the circumstances surrounding the Trump administration were less extraordinary, those comments would be wholly unremarkable at a commencement. But with the embattled president looking on, they seemed to take on extra weight.

As did his exhortation about the oath the cadets were about to take.

"We are the only country -- you are the only people -- who take an oath to a concept, embodied in a piece of paper called the U.S. constitution," Kelly said. "So understand that we are, first and foremost, a nation of laws, and if we use that as our guiding document, we will never, ever go wrong."

That’s a sentiment that may be invoked with some frequency in the days and weeks ahead, as a special counsel begins his investigation of the Trump campaign and alleged Russian involvement in the election.

Harriet Jones is Managing Editor for Connecticut Public Radio, overseeing the coverage of daily stories from our busy newsroom.

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