Vice President Kamala Harris
, a repeat trailblazer, spoke to midshipman Sydney Barber, the first Black woman brigade commander at the United States Naval Academy
, about being a trailblazer — and told Barber to “make sure you are not the last.”
In a Zoom
call with Barber on May 20 but made public on Saturday, Harris told the 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,” replied the midshipman, “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, serving as the brigade's only midshipman captain and holding the highest leadership position in the brigade.
In the meantime, Harris made history on Friday by becoming the first woman in the Naval Academy's 175-year history to deliver the commencement
Previously, Harris broke numerous barriers, including becoming the first woman, first Black, and first Asian American
vice president; the second Black woman elected to the U.S. Senate
; and the first Black person and woman to serve as California
's attorney general.
Barber's shoulder boards, complete with the stripes she earned at the Naval Academy, are displayed in the vice president's ceremonial office, and the vice president told her what her own mother once told her: "You may be the first to do many things, but you make sure you're not the last."
Barber, a recent graduate who majored in mechanical engineering and plans to join the Marine Corps
, helped establish the Naval Academy's Midshipman Diversity
Team, which aims to promote diversity and inclusion in the brigade, as well as a STEM mentoring program in the Annapolis area.
Barber discussed the importance of mentoring younger students, many of whom face poverty
and educational disparities, in her interview
with Harris, so that they can “see that someone who looks like them can also be Black, but beautiful and brilliant.”
“And not apologizing for it!” Harris joked.
“I don’t think I’d be here if someone else hadn’t seen the potential in me that I couldn’t see in myself,” Barber said.