Nearly 1,000 cadets celebrated their graduation from the Air Force Academy on Thursday with a Thunderbirds flyover and an address by President Donald Trump.
“Today you take the controls,” Trump told the Class of 2019 during the ceremony at Falcon Stadium in Colorado Springs, Colorado. “You’re going to push it up and chart your course across the sky. Keep the wings level and true, because your country is sending you on a vital mission: To defend America, protect our people, and to pursue our nation’s great and glorious destiny.”
The academy said that 989 cadets were scheduled to graduate, 10 of whom were international cadets from Kazakhstan, the Philippines, Romania, Rwanda, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand and Tunisia. More than half of those graduates, or 527, are scheduled to attend pilot training, and 56 graduates were previously enlisted airmen.
Nearly 20 percent of the 1,242 cadets who were inducted into the academy did not graduate, the academy said.
The ceremony will also include a flyover by the Thunderbirds.
In his commencement address, Trump praised the cadets for their hard work, discipline and perseverance over the last four years.
“You’ve done so many things that nobody else can do, and in the end, you’ve come out on top,” Trump said. “You have risen to every challenge, overcome every single obstacle, and proven yourselves worthy of the bars that will soon adorn your uniform.
“You soared in gliders, piloted aircraft and launched satellites that are now orbiting way, way above us, looking down on us,” Trump continued. “You performed advanced research, developed new techniques, you honed your skills as cyber operators, and jumped out of planes thousands of feet above the Earth. Not easy. For America’s airmen, the sky is never, never the limit.”
And Trump praised the parents and other supportive family members of the graduating cadets, who were “beaming with joy – and that’s what they’re doing, they are beaming with joy.”
“Thank you for raising rock-ribbed American patriots,” Trump said. “America is stronger thanks to your love and support for these incredible people, these incredible graduates. Without them, you wouldn’t be here, and that’s the way it is.”
Trump also lauded the progress the military has made under his administration – particularly highlighting the Air Force’s plans to buy 56 new stealth F-35 fighters, 24 MQ-9 Reaper drones, 15 KC-46 Pegasus tankers, and 10 combat search-and-rescue helicopters, as well as his plans to create a Space Force.
“You just like all those brand new, beautiful airplanes that we’re buying,” Trump told the cheering crowd as he took the podium.
He called up onto the stage graduating cadet Nic Ready, who last July became the first student from any military academy to win the College Home Run Derby. Ready broke the derby’s record with 55 home runs, which Trump declared was “a big deal.”
“I wanna feel this guy’s muscles,” Trump said, drawing laughter and applause from the crowd. He then gave Ready’s arm a squeeze and declared, “It’s real!”
And one by one, Trump saluted and shook the hand of each graduating cadet – though he noted he was given the option of passing on most or all those handshakes.
The ones who pass on handshakes “are the smart ones, they’re out of here,” Trump said. “I’m staying for a thousand.”
Trump was introduced by departing Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson in her last official duty as the service’s top civilian leader, as well as Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Dave Goldfein.
U.S. Northern Command and NORAD Commander Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy, U.S. Strategic Command head Gen. John Hyten, Air Force Space Command head Gen. Jay Raymond and Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth Wright were also on hand for the ceremony.