I was fortunate to attend the Air Force Academy Graduation for the Class of 2019. Here are some highlights of the day.
Most college graduations are special events. Proud parents, family members and friends gather to celebrate one of the highlights of an individual’s life: graduation from college. These days more than half of all Americans attend college. However, less than 30% hold a college degree. This is one reason that Air Force Academy Graduation is a special event.
However, graduating from a service academy is more than a college graduation. The Air force Academy is part college and part military institution. So graduation marks the commissioning of the graduate as an officer in the United States Air Force. Generally, the night before graduation, the young man or woman takes the oath of office and becomes a second lieutenant.
The final note to an Air Force Academy Graduation are the odds. According to information shared last week at the Academy, for every entrant into the Air Force Academy, there are ten applicants. Of those who do enter, not all graduate. The Class of 2019 had over 1,200 members when they arrived in June of 2015. In last Thursday’s graduating class, 991 remained. Things might be getting easier. Over 1,600 arrived in June of 1980 with the Class of 1984. On May 30, 1984, 997 remained.
Whenever a president comes to an Air Force Academy Graduation, it is a special event. President Richard Nixon came to the 1969 Air Force Academy Graduation. There was then a 15 year drought, before Ronald Reagan spoke for the Air Force Academy Class of 1984. Since that time, Presidents George HW Bush, Bill Clinton, George W Bush, and Barack Obama all have spoken.
This year Donald Trump addressed the Class of 2019. Fresh back from a trip to Japan, President Trump was remarkedly spry after a trip that brings jet lag in severe ways. President Trump elicits strong emotions from citizens, both positive and negative. Those reactions are not the topic of this blog. Suffice it to say, that the President was well received by the graduating class.
President Trump once again showed himself to be an engaging and charismatic speaker. My son and I were amazed at his ability to speak with no notes. What was particularly impressive were the names and facts that Trump shared about Academy history in individuals. He may have had a teleprompter on pad like devices mounted near the podium (it was difficult to tell if they were indeed teleprompters) but if he did, he rarely looked towards them and did not seem to read from them.
The Air Force Academy staff gave President option of shaking no hands, one hand (the top graduate) ten hands, or however many he chose. President Trump chose to shake 991 hands. This gesture was most appreciated by the graduates and the President proceeded to return salutes and shake hands for over an hour with every single graduate.
The Secretary of the Air Force
The Secretary of the Air Force (SECAF) is the ranking civilian over the Air Force. Heather A. Wilson’s last official act in this office, was to attend the Air Force academy Graduation. She has had a distinguished professional career (Click here for her bio). In her speech she reminisced about her days at the Air Force Academy (she is the first grad to become SECAF), the Bring Me Men Ramp, and Chief of Staff David Goldfein.
I remember Heather Wilson very vividly. She was two years ahead of me at the Academy. As a First Class Cadet (i.e. senior), she served as a Group Commander. In this role she would bark out commands to the ten cadet squadrons in her group at Noon Meal Formation. Her voice was rather deep for a female, and hence we nicknamed her “Leather” A. Wilson.
The Chief of Staff
General David Goldfein serves as Air Force Chief of Staff. Goldfein is the 6th Academy graduate to serve in that that role. Goldfein and Wilson entered the academy together in June of 1978. Goldfein is somewhat legendary at the academy as he was not a stellar student while in attendance. He ended up graduating a year after Wilson, in 1983.
However, once he entered the Air Force and got his pilot wings, his star began to rise. He has had a distinguished career (Click here for his Bio). His speech was also filled with some reminiscences and a great challenge to the class.
The Superintendent of the Air Force Academy
The Academy is run by a three-star general (a Lieutenant General). Currently serving in this role is Jay Silveria from the Class of 1985. Silveria gave a short, but interesting speech.
What was fun for me is that the Secretary of the Air Force, the Chief of Staff of the Air Force and the Superintendent of the Air Force Academy were all cadets with me at the same time at the Academy. I knew of Wilson and Goldfein. I did not know Silveria.
Following the commencement address and handing out the diplomas, the Commandant of Cadets administers the Oath of Office to the graduating class. The Air Force song is then played and the Commandant then states, “Ladies and Gentlemen you are dismissed”. At which time the cadets hurl their white Parade caps into the air.
While the cadets throw their hats into the air, the Thunderbirds roar overhead. The Flyby marks the end of the Air Force Academy Graduation. The Thunderbirds then return for an airshow for those in attendance.
I must mention that on May 30, 1984 the Thunderbirds flew over my graduation. There was not a cloud in the sky. As we sat and waited for the rest of the show, I heard Ronald Regan remark, “Where are the Thunderbirds”? They never returned, unable to perform due to cars moving in the parking lot.
This year the Thunderbirds returned. Well, five the six returned. For unannounced reasons (I suspect a maintenance problem) only five the six Thunderbirds preformed. Due to cloud cover, they executed what is known as the “low show”. Hence maneuvers such as the bomb blast were not done.
It was good to be at an Academy Graduation with my son. Whether he will choose to attend one day, is up to him. He has had the exposure. My recent trips back to the Academy have been disappointing. Mostly what I heard and read were politically correct rhetoric about respect and dignity and diversity. The Air Force Academy exists to train officers to “Fly, Fight and Win”. I had not heard that motto in many years. President Trump uttered it and added, “to Win and Win and Win a Win…until we get tired of winning, but wait a minute, we never get tired of winning, do we”? The Academy graduates need to always keep in mind that the United States expects them to fly, fight and win.