Thomas, 89, who covered the White House for decades, made her comments during an interview that later was posted online.
Thomas wrote for United Press International for more than a half-century and later for Hearst newspapers, covering every president from John F. Kennedy to Barack Obama.
"The international order we seek is one that can resolve the challenges of our times," Obama said, including countering violent extremism and insurgency, stopping the spread of nuclear weapons and securing nuclear materials, preventing conflict, helping poor countries feed themselves and care for their sick and fighting global warming.
"If we are successful in these tasks, that will lessen conflicts around the world," the president told about 20,000 people at the academy, on the Hudson River north of New York City. "It will be supportive of our efforts by our military to secure our country. We must pursue a strategy of national renewal and global leadership."
Noting this is the ninth straight wartime West Point graduation, Obama said the threat of global terrorism "is no less important today than it was in those days after 9/11."
He said the war against international terrorism differs from other wars in one key respect: "There will be no simple moment of surrender to mark the journey's end -- no armistice, no banner headline. Though we have had more success in eliminating al-Qaida leaders in recent months than in recent years, they will continue to recruit, and plot, and exploit our open society."
Obama said failed terror plots like the Christmas Day attempt to blow up a U.S.-bound airliner and the failed Times Square car-bombing "show that pressure on networks like al-Qaida is forcing them to rely on terrorists with less time and space to train" them.
Just before liftoff from Kennedy Space Center, Launch Director Mike Lienbach wished the six crew members "good luck and Godspeed" and told them to "have some fun out there."
Atlantis reached orbit without incident and was on its way toward the space station at about 17,500 mph, NASA said. The three main engines were shut off and Commander Ken Ham and his crew were to use smaller orbital maneuvering system engines to lift the shuttle higher into space for its two-day pursuit of the space station.
Atlantis lifted off and cleared the launch tower at 2:20:50 p.m. EDT and at 2:23:33 p.m. the twin solid rocket boosters fell away as designed, allowing the three main engines to push the spacecraft faster and higher.
In the minutes leading to liftoff, NASA engineers resolved concerns about the discovery of a ball bearing near the shuttle's payload bay.
The all-male shuttle crew members are on a 12-day mission to deliver an integrated cargo carrier and a Russian-built research module. The are to return to Earth May 26.
Just two shuttle flights are scheduled after Atlantis lifts off -- one flight by Discovery and one by Endeavour. NASA plans to end the 3-decade-old program by the end of this year.
The station is to remain operational until at least 2020 with NASA astronauts reaching it via Russian Soyuz spaceships until private companies develop spacecraft that can reliably ferry people into space.