The US Coast Guard has 217 new junior officers among its ranks. The Coast Guard Academy honored the graduates of 2008 on Wednesday.
Ensign DeCarol Davis was among the graduates.
As WNPR's Lucy Nalpathanchil reports, Ensign Davis' graduation marked a milestone in Coast Guard history.
22-year old Ensign DeCarol Davis began her valedictorian address to the class of 2008 with the powerful words of Malcolm X.
"We declare our right on this earth to be a human being, to be respected as a human being. To be given the rights of a human being in this society, on this earth, in this day which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary."
She went on to explain to her classmates that they are tied together with a common thread despite their varying backgrounds.
"I need you to take this moment and see that I am black. See that I'm a woman. I need you to see that I am human just like you, no better, no worse."
Davis' achievement as the first African American woman to graduate at the top of her class comes after a rocky year for the Coast Guard. In 2007, the Academy received national attention after two noose incidents; one targeted a black male cadet, the other targeted a female civil rights instructor at the school.
After the ceremony, Ensign Davis is surrounded by family and friends.
Davis says she spoke about humanity because its a theme central to the service of Coast Guard men and women. She says she's proud to graduate from the Academy and says the school has learned from the past.
"My leaders here have supported me and I support them throughout all incidents whether race, gender, sex. We are going to be facing these things in the future and it's important we address them and I think we will."
Her circle of admirers included retired Captain Allen L Thompson Jr of the US Coast Guard. He was the fifteenth African American to graduate from the Academy. He presented Davis with a jacket with the Coast Guard seal that commemorates her achievement.
Ensign Davis will go on to work in Marine Inspections for a Coast Guard unit in Staten Island.
She says her service in the Coast Guard protecting homeland security gives her a host of responsibilities including treating all individuals with decency.