The U.S. Air Force Academy announced that it will graduate its cadet Class of 2020 on April 18, about a month ahead of the originally planned May 28 graduation date at Falcon Stadium.
The decision follows deliberation about the impacts of COVID-19 between Air Force Academy staff and service officials, Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria, superintendent of the U.S. Air Force Academy, said in an official statement.
“While we are still working through many details both here and at the Pentagon, we do know that we can complete our academic and military requirements in time,” Silveria said.
“We will also execute a ceremony planned by cadets and staff that will provide a meaningful transition from cadets to officers in our Air Force.”
What that ceremony will look like remains to be seen, but in accordance with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it is presumed that no guests — family or friends — will be permitted to attend due to safety concerns.
No mention was made of the hat toss or the graduation flyover.
“It will not be the traditional graduation ceremony you have imagined for years, but it can be one of a kind and unique … like the class of 2020,” a post on the Air Force Academy graduate liaison Facebook group said.
Academy officials and students alike have acknowledged the mental toll taken in the wake of implementing measures to prevent the virus’ proliferation.
One such measure was to keep cadets slated to graduate in the Class of 2020 on campus — with social distancing guidelines in place — while the lower three classes were released “to their home or an alternate location of their choosing,” the academy announced on March 13.
Officials selected that option “because our Air and Space Forces have deemed [cadets] essential to their missions and while they are here I can guarantee access to COVID testing and world class medical care with our 10th Medical Group,” Lt. Gen. Silveria said.
Now, in the wake of two recent cadet deaths over a span of three days — neither cadet contracted COVID-19 — and the continually alarming impact of the pandemic, the academy is modifying its course.
“We have made herculean efforts thus far to graduate the class of 2020 and within a few weeks we will see this come to fruition,” Silveria added.
“This wouldn’t have been possible without everyone’s efforts — across all MEs and the staff — and I can’t thank you enough.”
Both the commandant and the dean will be keeping cadets abreast of what to expect in the weeks to come.
J.D. Simkins is a writer and editor for Military Times, and a USMC veteran.