Kamala Harris Talks Being The First With History-Making Naval Academy Graduate

The vice president, the first woman to deliver the commencement speech at the Naval Academy, spoke with Sydney Barber, the first Black woman brigade commander.

Vice President Kamala Harris, a repeat history-maker, spoke to midshipman Sydney Barber, the first Black woman brigade commander at the U.S. Naval Academy, about being a trailblazer — and told Barber to “make sure you’re not the last.”

In a conversation over Zoom — held on May 20 but publicly released Saturday — Harris spoke to Barber from the vice president’s ceremonial office in D.C., telling the then-soon-to-be Naval Academy graduate that she had “done so much that’s going to impact people you may never meet. … It’s really extraordinary what you’ve done.”

“Well ma’am,” the midshipman answered, “I could say the same about you.”

Barber made history earlier this year when she became the first Black woman to command a brigade of midshipmen, holding the highest leadership position in the brigade as the only midshipman captain.

Harris, meanwhile, made history Friday by becoming the first woman to deliver the commencement address at the Naval Academy in its 175-year history.

Previously, Harris has broken numerous barriers, including becoming the first woman, first Black and first Asian American vice president; the second Black woman to be elected as a U.S. senator; and the first Black person and woman to be California’s attorney general.

The vice president — who displays Barber’s shoulder boards, with the stripes she earned in the Naval Academy, in her ceremonial office — told Barber what her own mother once said to her: “You may be the first to do many things, you make sure you’re not the last.”

Barber, a new graduate who majored in mechanical engineering and plans to join the Marines, helped create the Midshipman Diversity Team at the Naval Academy, which aims to promote diversity and inclusion in the brigade. She also started a program to mentor students in STEM in the Annapolis area.

In her conversation with Harris, Barber spoke about the importance of being a mentor for younger students, many of whom face poverty and educational disparities, so they can “see that someone who looks like them can also be Black, but beautiful and brilliant.”

“And not apologizing for it!” Harris cut in, laughing.

“I don’t think I would be here if someone else didn’t see the potential in me that I couldn’t see myself,” Barber said.

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