Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis at the Pentagon in Washington,...

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., on April 20. Credit: AFP/Getty Images/Saul Loeb

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis will address graduates of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at their June 16 commencement ceremony on the Kings Point campus.

In making the announcement Friday, Rear Adm. James A. Helis, the academy’s superintendent, celebrated Mattis and his record of military service as an inspiring presence for the midshipmen.

“The United States Merchant Marine Academy is extremely honored to have Secretary Mattis as our commencement speaker,” Helis’ statement said. “This year marks USMMA’s 75th anniversary. It is especially fitting to have Secretary Mattis — who epitomizes our graduates’ highest aspirations and whose father was a Merchant Mariner — address the Class of 2018.”

The school is one of five federal service academies. It is the only one that comes under the jurisdiction of the Transportation Department and the agency’s U.S. Maritime Administration, or MARAD.

The high-profile visit to the federal service academy, which prepares students for the nation’s transportation and defense needs, comes as the institution works to implement reforms strengthening its reporting mechanisms regarding sexual harassment and sexual assault, and improving student safety.

Mattis, often seen by the side of President Donald Trump during briefings in the nation’s capital, became the 26th U.S. secretary of defense at the start of the administration.

He is a commissioned U.S. Marine Corps officer who has played an important role in military actions in the Middle East since 2003, including as the joint force commander who directed the operations of more than 200,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen, Coast Guardsmen, Marines and allied forces.

Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), a member and former chairman of the USMMA Board of Visitors, the school’s congressional oversight panel, called Mattis “a genuine American hero and patriot” on Friday and said his visit is good for the school.

“I think it shows the administration is serious about Kings Point,” King said. “Mattis is the superstar of the administration. He’s the one person who’s avoided all controversy and he’s respected on all sides.”

At last year’s commencement, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao addressed about 170 graduates.

The school provides a tuition-free education to students who often go on to work in the maritime industry and can serve as officers on commercial vessels during wartime or in national security emergencies.

Graduates must fulfill a service obligation: five years of active duty in a branch of the U.S. armed services, or five years in the maritime industry along with eight years in a U.S. military reserve unit. About one-third enter the armed services as commissioned officers. In 1974, it was the first of the service academies to admit women.

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