COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Nearly 1,000 cadets graduated Saturday from the Air Force Academy in a scaled-down ceremony that capped a trying semester of virtual classes and solitary dorm-room meals due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The commencement, which is normally held in May, featured Vice President Mike Pence but was held without the large crowd that normally fills Falcon Stadium. The cadets marched 6 feet (1.8 meters) apart to seats that were spread across the center of the Colorado Springs campus to minimize the risk of spreading the virus.
More than 36,000 people watched the ceremony on an academy internet stream. Family and friends flooded the website’s chat with messages of congratulations to individual cadets.
Out of the 967 graduates, 86 will become officers of the Space Force, the newest U.S. military branch.
One tradition didn’t change — the flyover by the Air Force Thunderbirds as the graduates tossed their caps in the air.
Academy underclassmen were sent home earlier this semester because of the pandemic. The graduating class stayed, but remained isolated from one another to prevent the spread of the virus.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death. The vast majority of people recover.
Two cadets died in March from what is thought to be suicide, The Gazette reported.
“Though under very unfortunate circumstances, I think this has made us closer as a squadron and a cadet wing and as the class of 2020,” Cadet 1st Class Angelina Robledo told the newspaper.
Cadet 1st Class McKenna Cox said the uncertainty of the times makes graduation more meaningful.
“I think it would have been a bittersweet time whether graduation would have been in April or May,” Cox said. “But I am excited because I will look to my left and right and see the people we’ve been through this all with.”