Obama to Class of 2012: Your spirit is essence of America

President Barack Obama delivers the commencement speech to the Air Force Academy Class of 2012 at Falcon Stadium in Colorado Springs, Colo., May 23, 2012. The Class of 2012 is the Academy's 54th graduating class. (U.S. Air Force photo/Mike Kaplan)

President Barack Obama delivers the commencement speech to the Air Force Academy Class of 2012 at Falcon Stadium in Colorado Springs, Colo., May 23, 2012. The Class of 2012 is the Academy's 54th graduating class. (U.S. Air Force photo/Mike Kaplan)

President Barack H. Obama congratulates Cadet 1st Class Madison Chilton during the Air Force Academy graduation ceremony in Falcon Stadium May 23, 2012. Chilton, the daughter of Mobilization Assistant Brig. Gen. Cathy Chilton, is one of a record 237 women to graduate as part of the Academy's Class of 2012. (U.S. Air Force photo/Mike Kaplan)

President Barack H. Obama congratulates Cadet 1st Class Madison Chilton during the Air Force Academy graduation ceremony in Falcon Stadium May 23, 2012. Chilton, the daughter of Mobilization Assistant Brig. Gen. Cathy Chilton, is one of a record 237 women to graduate as part of the Academy's Class of 2012. (U.S. Air Force photo/Mike Kaplan)

President Barack Obama congratulates Cadet 1st Class Timothy Jefferson on graduating from the Air Force Academy during the Academy's graduation ceremony in Falcon Stadium May 23, 2012. Jefferson was the starting quarterback for the Air Force Falcons football team. (U.S. Air Force photo/Mike Kaplan)

President Barack Obama congratulates Cadet 1st Class Timothy Jefferson on graduating from the Air Force Academy during the Academy's graduation ceremony in Falcon Stadium May 23, 2012. Jefferson was the starting quarterback for the Air Force Falcons football team. (U.S. Air Force photo/Mike Kaplan)

President Barack Obama speaks with Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz after delivering the commencement speech for the Air Force Academy's graduation ceremony at Falcon Stadium May 23, 2012. This is the last commencement for Schwartz as chief of staff: the 1973 Academy graduate is set to retire in August. Obama has nominated 1976 Academy graduate Gen. Mark Welsh III as Schwartz's successor. (U.S. Air Force photo/Mike Kaplan)

President Barack Obama speaks with Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz after delivering the commencement speech for the Air Force Academy's graduation ceremony at Falcon Stadium May 23, 2012. This is the last commencement for Schwartz as chief of staff: the 1973 Academy graduate is set to retire in August. Obama has nominated 1976 Academy graduate Gen. Mark Welsh III as Schwartz's successor. (U.S. Air Force photo/Mike Kaplan)

President Barack Obama receives a gift from senior ranking cadets after delivering the commencement address to the Air Force Academy's Class of 2012 at Falcon Stadium May 23, 2012. (U.S. Air Force photo/Mike Kaplan)

President Barack Obama receives a gift from senior ranking cadets after delivering the commencement address to the Air Force Academy's Class of 2012 at Falcon Stadium May 23, 2012. (U.S. Air Force photo/Mike Kaplan)

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- President Barack Obama called the Air Force Academy's Class of 2012 exceptional during his commencement address in Falcon Stadium May 23 for the spirit embodied in their class motto: "Numquam Hesitabimus, Numquam Deficiemus" -- "Never Falter, Never Fail."

The Class of 2012, the Academy's 54th graduating class, set records for the largest number of graduates who will conduct post-graduate research after the ceremony and the largest number of female graduates in Academy history with 237.

"This is my second visit to the Academy," Obama said at the beginning of his remarks. "I was here in the summer of 2008, and you were getting ready to head out to Jacks Valley. So I was proud to be here when you began this journey, and I thought I'd come back and help you celebrate at the end."

Obama illustrated the significance of Air Force Academy graduates in supporting him as commander in chief of the Armed Forces. Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz is a 1973 graduate; his nominated successor, Gen. Mark Welsh III, is a 1976 graduate. Brig. Gen. Brad Webb, who sat near the president in the White House the day Osama bin Laden was killed, is a 1984 graduate. Even the pilot of Air Force One, Col. Scott Turner, graduated from the Air Force Academy.

"I was going to tell you a joke about Scott, but he's my ride home, so I'll keep that one to myself," the president joked. On the same lighthearted note, he later added, "I only ask that you resist the temptation to rate my speech, 'fast, neat, average, friendly, good, good.'"

Taking a more serious tone, the president congratulated the cadets for excelling at one of the most demanding academic institutions in the United States.

"Cadets, this is the day you finally become officers in the finest Air Force in the world," he said. "Like generations before you, you will be charged with the responsibility of leading those under your command. Like classes over the past 10 years, you graduate during a time of war, and you may find yourselves in harm's way."

The new lieutenants will also face an uncertain future, with more nebulous threats than those the U.S. has faced in the past, Obama said. However, he promised them that they would also be ready to meet those threats.

"When you came in four years ago, we had 180,000 troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan," he said. "The end of these wars will shape your service and will make our nation stronger. Going forward, you will face fewer deployments. You will have more time to train and stay ready. That means you will be better prepared for the range of missions you will face.

"You are part of the finest, most powerful military the world has ever known. ... We will be leaner, but as commander in chief, I will not allow us to repeat the mistakes of the past," Obama continued. "We need you to be ready for the full range of threats, from nations seeking weapons of mass destruction to the cell of terrorists planning the next attack; from the old danger of piracy to the new threat of (cyberwarfare)."

Obama cited several reasons why he sees the 21st century as another American century: because of the nation's resilience; its alliances; its drive to lead global affairs and spread the American values of freedom and liberty; but perhaps most importantly because of the spirit of its people -- people like 2nd Lt. Edward Camacho, a Venezuela native whose chase for his dream to be a pilot led him to the Academy.

"Edward ... said what we all know to be true: 'I'm convinced that America is the land of opportunity.' You're right, Edward. That is who we are. That's the America we love: always young, always looking ahead to that light of a new day on the horizon," Obama said.

"It's that simple yet revolutionary idea that was at our founding and in our hearts ever since: that we have it in our power to make the world anew, to make the future what we will," he continued. "It's that fundamental faith: that American optimism, which says that no challenge is too great, no mission too hard. It's the spirit that guides your class: 'Never Falter, Never Fail.' ... With your proud service, I am absolutely confident that America will meet the challenges of our time."