S and I recently got to attend the graduation for the U.S. Air Force Academy. That is quite an experience! Thanks to S’s position, we actually got special tickets that allowed us to sit down on the stadium floor–near the graduating cadets. FYI, we were going to sit on the 20 yard line, while the cadets sat on the 50-yard line. This picture was taken when we first arrived, before the stands had filled.
Once the stands filled with parents, friends and family, other class-year cadets, and active duty members, it was an impressive sight indeed! Certainly not your average graduation! In fact, there was even a dress-code for those of us sitting on the stadium floor. Not that you can tell from my winter parka (it was chilly!), but active duty had to wear their fancy mess-dress with “wheel-cap,” while civilians (and spouses) had to wear business formal attire. All PhD. professors had to wear their PhD garb, so it looked like we were surrounded by all these scholars! It was quite a spectacle.
After a short ceremony by the Air Force band, the graduating cadets made their grand parade entrance.
There were many very-high ranking officials at the ceremony, and some were even there representing foreign nations. The guest speaker is different every year, but always a famous and high-ranking individual such as the President, the Vice President, etc. This year, we had the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, as well as the Secretary of the Air Force speak.
After the commencement speeches and fanfare, the cadets line up by squadron, and their individual names are called to receive their diploma. Secretary of the Air Force Donley shook the hand of EACH graduating cadet as they walked past. Now this may not sound like a big deal, but I gotta tell you, I felt sorry for the guy. In this graduation, there were over 1,000 graduates! Mr. Donley had to be exhausted at the end! If nothing else, I’m sure his arm was totally numb!
During the final few squadrons, all the parents in the stadium traditionally bring their young children to a designated point, where they are handed off to a bunch of active duty folks, who then corral the kids down on the stadium floor, in anticipation of the next big tradition. After the graduation is over, the cadets are officially “released” from their duty at USAFA, at which time, they toss their caps into the air. The kids then get to run and collect a hat, before being returned to their parents. 1,000 stampeding through the field, mingling with the graduates, and collecting the hats is a quite a spectacle in itself! I tried to get a picture, but it all happened so fast, the best I could do was a pic of the kids anticipating the tradition as they are coralled by the adults…
Finally, the 3 hour event concludes with a performance by the Air Force Thunderbird team. The initial fly-over happens simultaneous with the “release” and cap toss, and since they fly over at about 500 feet, it is very impressive! They give about a 20 minute performance of the aireal acrobatics they are so famous for, and fly so low at some points that no one is even allowed to park under the area.
This event is something I have heard about all year, and was thrilled I got to attend. It is worth seeing at least once in a lifetime. Because these graduates are the next generation of our nation’s defense team, it is an event that requires a great deal of effort, planning, and special fanfare. I highly recommend it if you ever get the opportunity!