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Good evening, everyone! Rear Admiral Caesar, thank you for that kind introduction, and for your leadership of the Naval Academy Minority Association.
As both a proud alumnus of the Academy and as the Secretary of the Navy, I appreciate the efforts of NAMA and other groups like it to attract and recruit the future leaders of our Navy and Marine Corps team.
Our population of over 300 million Americans is incredibly diverse and talented. Organizations like NAMA directly support the Department of Navy’s enduring priority of Building a Culture of Warfighting Excellence by highlighting opportunities for public service made available through enrollment at the United States Naval Academy.
I would also like to thank Vice Admiral Buck for his continued leadership and stewardship of the United States Naval Academy, providing a welcoming, positive environment for our next generation of Navy and Marine Corps leaders to develop morally, mentally, and physically.
As you finish out your forty years of uniformed service to our Navy and our Nation, I cannot tell you how proud I am of you as your classmate. You represented the Class of 1983 with honor and integrity, and I cannot thank you enough for setting such a wonderful example for our Midshipmen to follow.
Also with us tonight is Rear Admiral Yvette Davids, whom I have nominated to relieve Vice Admiral Buck as Superintendent of the United States Naval Academy. Rear Admiral Davids’ career has prepared her well for this role, and we anxiously await the Senate’s decision on her nomination.
If confirmed, she will be able to provide our Midshipmen and Naval Academy community with an incredible perspective of service — not just as one of our few female or Hispanic admirals—but as an American who, like all of us, has dedicated her life in defense of our Nation.
In our time together tonight, I would like to talk about my own journey to naval service as a Hispanic immigrant; I want to talk about those who have gone both before me and those who have since followed me in the Naval Service; and I want to discuss an upcoming change here on the Yard.
Before anyone starts texting their friends back in Bancroft Hall, no — it is not weekend overnight liberty for Plebes.
My immigrant story is not unfamiliar to many of you here in this room, nor is it foreign to thousands of our Sailors and Marines who are either immigrants themselves or the first generation of their families to be born here in the United States. My story begins in Havana during the early 1960s. My father, Raul Del Toro, was imprisoned by the Castro regime for “counter-revolutionary activities.” The Cuba he and my mother Martha grew up in was disappearing before their eyes. When I was ten months old, my father was released from prison and given 48 hours to leave Cuba. My parents were forced to give up everything — we arrived in Hell’s Kitchen, New York with almost nothing besides each other.
My parents each worked two jobs to support our family. They instilled in me the value of hard work, of a good education, and of appreciation for the country that took us in at a time when we had nowhere else to go.
The risks they took to get us safely to America, the sacrifices they made to give me a better life, and the immense opportunities this country offered fueled my desire to give back to the country that took us in when we had little else than hopes and dreams.
In 1979, I left New York for the United States Naval Academy to begin what has turned into a life-long love affair with the Navy.
When I commissioned in 1983, I was by no means the first Hispanic graduate of USNA.
Alberto de Ruiz, a fellow Cuban immigrant and member of the Class of 1875, blazed the trail for other Hispanic Americans desiring to attend the Naval Academy.
Admiral Horacio Rivero, USNA Class of 1931, became our school’s first Hispanic American graduate to promote to four stars when he assumed the role of Vice Chief of Naval Operations in 1964.
More recently, in 2007, then-Commander Yvette Davids, USNA Class of 1989, became the first female Hispanic American officer to command a US Navy warship — the USS Curts (FFG 39).
Achievement and recognition in the naval services are not reserved solely for USNA graduates, however. Millions of Hispanic Americans have served with distinction as members of our Navy and Marine Corps team since the beginning of our Nation.
Jorge Farragut Mesquido—an immigrant from the island of Minorca, Spain — an experienced merchant captain from South Carolina, served with distinction in the Revolutionary War as a member of the South Carolina State Navy. His son, David Glasgow Farragut, would later become a full Admiral in the United States Navy.
Our 54th Secretary of the Navy, and the first Hispanic American to hold the title, the Honorable Edward Hidalgo, was one of an estimated 500,000 Hispanics who served our Nation during World War II.
As fate would have it, I was fortunate enough to know Secretary Hidalgo. His willingness to share his experiences has benefited me greatly as I follow in his footsteps, leading the Department of the Navy.
The individuals I just mentioned are just small sample of the millions of Hispanic Americans who have served in defense of our Nation across all branches of the military.
Their dedication, courage, and perseverance in the face of adversity contributed to set the next generation up for success, with access to opportunities not previously available.
As we approach the 75th anniversary of President Truman’s Executive Order integrating the Armed Forces and the 50th anniversary of the all-volunteer force, I am encouraged by the progress we have made as both a Department and as a Nation to provide opportunities for Americans of under-represented communities to not only serve, but to lead, both in and out of uniform.
Our Navy today has over 490,000 enlisted Sailors, of whom 21% are female, 20% identify as Hispanic, and 18% as African American. Our Officer corps is comprised of over 95,000 people and is also 21% female. Yet only 10% are Hispanic and 7% are African American.
In the Marine Corps, we have 176,000 enlisted Marines, with 29% identifying as Hispanic, 11% as African American, and 9% as female. Of the 26,000 Marine Officers serving today, 10% are female, 11% are Hispanic, and 5% are African American.
There is still much work to be done as we look to recruit and retain a Fleet and a Force that are representative of our population’s diversity.
Still, looking how far we have come is a great source of encouragement to me.
For example, when I entered the Naval Academy on Induction Day in 1979 as one of the 1,395 Midshipmen in the Class of 1983, only 6.5% were women, with 3.4% of us identifying as Hispanic or Latino and 5.7% as African American.
Compare that to today; of the 1,172 Mids in the Class of 2026, 15.6% identify as Hispanic or Latino, 6.5% as African American, and 28% are women.
So what are we doing to remove barriers and ensure that all Americans have equal opportunity both to serve and to succeed in our Navy and Marine Corps?
To increase our recruiting efforts, we are expanding community and school-based outreach to raise awareness in underserved and minority communities of the benefits offered by service.
One example of this is our Junior Officer Diversity Outreach program. This program brings together successful naval officers from diverse backgrounds and cultures with students and community leaders in order to show what it is possible to achieve through Naval service.
In that vein, I ask that all of you gathered here this evening continue to tell your stories—what drew you to the Naval Academy, why you chose to serve our Nation as members of the Navy and Marine Corps, the challenges you’ve faced and, most importantly, how you’ve overcome them.
Ultimately, you are the most powerful tool the department has when it comes to recruiting our next generation of Sailors and Marines.
We need leaders — both in and out of uniform — guided by a strong sense of conviction and duty in service to our Nation.
As such, before I conclude my remarks this evening, I would like to tell you a story about two US Navy Captains who, on the eve of the Civil War, were facing the same choice that confronted our Nation.
The first was Franklin Buchanan. A Southerner who called Maryland home, Captain Buchanan served in the United States Navy for 46 years, starting with the War of 1812. He commanded Commodore Perry’s flagship in Japan, and was the first Superintendent of the “Naval School,” which is why the Superintendent’s residence here at the Academy came to bear his name.
Late in his career, and with the country on the verge of conflict, Captain Buchanan chose to resign his commission and join the Confederate Navy.
Buchanan—who eventually became the only full Admiral in the Confederate Navy — betrayed the country he spent over four decades of his life serving. He chose to lead Confederate Sailors against those very Americans alongside whom he had served for four decades.
The second officer, Captain David Glasgow Farragut—whom I mentioned earlier—was also a Southerner serving in the United States Navy when the Civil War began.
Farragut entered service in the U.S. Navy as a Midshipman at the age of nine, holding his first command of a prize ship during the War of 1812 at age 11.
Like Buchanan, Farragut also had strong ties to the South, ranging from owning property in Virginia to family connections in New Orleans. Yet despite these ties to Confederate states, Farragut remained loyal to United States, the country his father had fought to bring into existence.
As fate would have it, Farragut and Buchanan would face off during the Civil War, commanding their respective fleets during the Battle of Mobile Bay. As you all know, this naval engagement ended in defeat and capture for Buchanan.
And it is because of Admiral David Glasgow Farragut’s devotion to duty and loyalty to country that we choose now to honor him—a true American naval hero—by renaming the Superintendent’s residence here at Annapolis after him, effective immediately.
I want all gathered here today and those who read these remarks in the future to know that we are not renaming this residence to erase or change our Nation’s history but rather to celebrate those who are most deserving of this recognition.
Franklin Buchanan played a role in our Navy’s history for over fifty years, wearing both the cloth of our Nation and that of our adversary. We will continue to discuss him and his exploits as appropriate, and with the proper context.
The same goes for Matthew Fontaine Maury.
What we cannot, will not, do is continue to honor these men with buildings named after them at an institution whose mission is to develop the future leaders of our Navy and Marine Corps—the very same Navy and Marine Corps these gentlemen turned their guns against.
President Carter and Admiral Farragut’s lives of service are examples for our Midshipmen to emulate as they progress through their own careers—embodying the notion of “Not for Self, but for Country.”
In closing, the opportunities and experiences I have had here in America far exceeded my parents’ wildest hopes and dreams for me, from commanding the USS Bulkeley (DDG 84), to founding a small business with my wife Betty, and now, being the 78th Secretary of the Navy.
Only in America can someone arrive with nothing and work their way to the top. My only wish is that my parents were here to see how far we’ve come since leaving Cuba.
As I share my personal story with you this evening, I am reminded of Emma Lazarus’s poem “The New Colossus,” which is on the plaque at the base of the Statue of Liberty, in my home city.
It reads: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
For hundreds of years, the United States of America has taken in millions upon millions of immigrants like me, all wanting the same thing—a chance to start over, and the opportunity to achieve our dreams.
Like President Carter and Admiral Farragut, you all are the inspiration and role models for our next generation of leaders, and I thank you for continuing to live lives of service to our great Nation.
Thank you all again for your time this evening.
May God bless our Sailors, Marines, Midshipmen, and their families.
Carlos Del Toro
29 April 2023
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