Photo: USNA Photo Archive

USNA Graduation Breaks with Tradition

On May 22, the day they thought they’d be walking across a stage and throwing their covers (hats) in the air in front of family and friends at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, 988 midshipmen were officially commissioned in the United States Naval Academy’s first-ever virtual graduation and commissioning ceremony.  

The web-streamed event began with a tribute to the Class of 2020. In a 30-minute montage of star-studded video messages, two dozen alumni, political and military leaders, television broadcasters, athletes, and actors sent their congratulations. The list of notables included: NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach (’65), astronaut Nicole Mann (’99), Governor Larry Hogan, General James Mattis, Al Roker, Verne Lundquist, Charles Barkley, new Annapolis resident Cal Ripken Jr., and Hollywood A-listers Bradley Cooper and Tom Cruise. 

In place of the traditional Commissioning Week pomp and circumstance, the Class of 2020 was sworn in 200 people at a time during five closed, in-person but socially distanced ceremonial events. A surprise Blue Angel flyover last week capped the mini-graduations. 

Socially-distanced members of the Class of 2020. Photo: USNA Photo Archive

The virtual commissioning included pre-recorded remarks focused on the unique circumstances under which the graduates were leaving “the yard on the banks of the Severn” and entering their professional military careers as leaders of men and women. Those who spoke included: Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper; Acting Secretary of the Navy James E. McPherson; Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Mike M. Gilday; Vice Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Robert P. Burke; Commandant of the Marine Corps General David H. Berger; Naval Academy Superintendent Vice Admiral Sean Buck; and Class of 2020 President Mike Smith. 

Like all Navy graduations preceding 2020, this one concluded with the images of covers flying the air, thrown by each graduate in the small group ceremonies. 

While the conclusion of the semester was nowhere close to what the USNA student body was looking forward to when it began in January—a week filled with traditions such as the Herndon Climb, Ring Dance, and the Blue Angels air show—it represented what Superintendent Buck called “our best (effort) to give a memorable tribute to the Class of 2020 during a Commissioning Week unlike any other … in the history of our great academy.” 

-Steve Adams