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Tuesday, June 1, 2010

USAFA Grad Week: Graduation, at last!

The scene played out daily at mealtime during their freshman year at USAFA. Four thousand cadets filed into Mitchell Hall and came to attention at their tables. The freshmen stood, two or three at each table of ten, with their head up but eyes down. It was time to report “knowledge.” Upperclassmen at each table quizzed their freshmen on random Academy facts that the “doolies” were expected to know. Though the questions changed from day to day, one always remained the same: “How many days until graduation?”

“Sir!” they would respond, “the number of days until graduation for the Class of 2006: 168.” Freshmen always knew the exact number. They continued without hesitation: “The number of days until graduation for the Class of 2007: 535. The number of days until graduation for the Class of 2008: 898.

“The number of days until graduation for the Class of 2009: Infinite.”

Infinity sure flew by. Four years later, the graduating seniors wondered where all of the time had gone as they marched into Falcon Stadium.
*Note: The pictures in this post are a combination of family and Getty images.
More than fifteen thousand of the cadets’ family members and friends stood with them as our national anthem proudly filled the air.
Vice President Joe Biden was the keynote speaker.
While the speakers did a wonderful job, the crowd truly roared when it was time for the presentation of diplomas. Squadron by squadron and in alphabetical order, the seniors walked past the podium. After what seemed like ages, it was Matt’s turn. We sprung to our feet and cheered wildly as his name was read. Even the babies joined in by blowing whistles with as much force as their cute little mouths could muster.

Matt confidently stepped onto the stage and accepted his prized blue box. Then he walked forward to salute the Air Force Chief of Staff, General Norton A. Schwartz. The 4-Star General shook Matt’s hand and counseled, “Lead them well.” Matt responded quickly with a sincere nod, “Yes, sir.”
A few more steps brought Matt to Vice President Biden’s outstretched hand. Biden offered his congratulations and expressed his and the country’s gratitude for Matt’s service.
Then Matt turned toward his squadmate waiting at the bottom of the ramp. Per tradition, Drew Borders rendered a salute to the new graduate and Matt beamed as he returned the gesture. They jumped into a celebratory hug and Drew pranced back to his seat while Matt repeated the process for the next Bulldawg.
Once all forty squadrons had received their diplomas, Brigadier General Samuel Cox invited the seniors to stand and repeat the officer’s oath they had taken the previous evening.
If the morning hadn’t felt surreal before, it definitely did now. The excitement began to build at a rapid pace as the stadium anxiously awaited the magic words. General Cox carefully watched the flag signal next to the media box and timed his concluding remarks accordingly. Then, the signal was given and the order came:

“Class of 2009, dismissed!”

In one perfectly orchestrated instant, the crowd erupted and the seniors tossed their caps high in the air as six F-16 Thunderbirds roared overhead.
The cheering continued for minutes on end—not only from the crowd, but from the graduating class as they hugged and celebrated on the field. Still in a daze, they scattered to find loved ones to share in the merriment.

In the meantime, I rushed from my seat and made my way through the crowd down toward the field entrance. I watched as Matt and his best friends spotted each other and reveled in their shared accomplishment. And then, it was my turn. Matt scanned the crowd and bounded up the stairs as soon as he found my face.
The next moment is one I’ll remember for the rest of my life. I’d already fought back the tears while the national anthem was played, as Matt received his diploma, and when the caps were thrown to the sky. But they flowed happily down my cheeks as Matt wrapped me in his arms, lifted me off my tip toes, and kissed me with more emotion than a sentence like this could capture. They were tears of joy, tears of pride, and tears of relief that finally, finally, he was mine. It was a moment of sheer bliss.
Meanwhile, unbeknown to the two of us, the world kept turning. The celebration continued throughout the stadium as the Thunderbirds performed overhead.
I led Matt to our families who were waiting patiently with smiles that stretched to New Zealand and back. Matt showed off the contents of the coveted blue box as his parents bursted with pride. My little brothers excitedly informed Matt that they, too, wanted to attend the Air Force Academy.
Before long, the stadium and parking lots began to clear. I accompanied Matt for one final stroll across the Terrazzo before he turned in his golden sash and said goodbye to the Academy.
And just like that, it was all over. All of the white glove inspections and noon-meal formations and sleepless nights spent studying for yet another exam. All of the football games and sponsors’ homes and goofing off in the dorms with friends. And for the two of us, all of the five-hour phone calls and lonely weeknights and Sunday goodbyes at the Denver airport. Most notably, all of the necessary-yet-inconvenient rules that forbid cadets from getting married until after graduation—until after this day. It had all come to an end.

At long last, we could finally begin.


  1. This post is absolutely beautiful! While I have never attended a graduation of my husbands (he is enlisted AF), I cannot wait for his ALS ceremony and re-enlistment where I can post proud pictures!

    Congrats to your man and I hope your re-unitement was AMAZING

  2. wow what an amazing graduation! and to make it even more amazing you guys could finally get married! i loved reading this post. and i hope your brothers get to go to the air force academy too. it looks like such an incredible experience.

  3. That has to be the most incredible graduation ever. Do you write much? That post was beautifully recorded. It was poetic. What a relief to know you could finally get married!

  4. What a wonderful post. The photos are amazing!!


  5. Thanks for your comment on my blog. I love hearing from you. I also love reading your blog posts because they are so entertaining! I am in love with Halstatt and I will make it a life goal of mine to visit that village! Have you ever been to Victoria, Canada? It is one of the most beautiful places on the planet and the houses are to die for. You should visit one day. You will not regret it. Anyway, I miss you and it looks like your have a blast being married. As you should be.

  6. CHILLS! congratulations to you both!!! can't believe how patient you were dating matt. wowzer, that's gotta feel good to have it be over!

  7. I LOVE reading about your and Matt's experiences with dating/being engaged through the academy together. I am so excited to be able to share all of these great things with Zane over the next year. :)

  8. ASh, that was an amazing post! I totally seriously feel like I just read a top selling book....or saw the movie....or both!! You are gifted in your abilities to write and to capture and share these wonderful experiences with the rest of us! What a wonderful Journal you have here for your family history!! You two are really an amazing couple!

  9. Loved reading you recap of Matt's graduation. What a special time for the both of you. Not to mention, the relief, that you were able to get married. Haha I know that feeling. The mister and I have known each other for 12yrs, albeit not all of that dating. Perhaps one I will write down our dating history. =) Beautifully written.

  10. Thank you everyone! You're all so sweet!

    Jo-My BA is in Communications and I've worked in public relations and journalism. So, yes--I've done a lot of writing in my days :-) I miss it terribly!

    Nichole-I'm so excited for the year that you and Zane have ahead! It'll fly by.

  11. These posts are really getting to me! I was tryin to walk to work this morning and kept getting all teary-eyed reading this! So beautifully written, love all the pictures, and love the moments you captured. I lovedthe part where you found each other in the crowd and Matt was finally free to marry you.... could this get any more romantic?! Remind me to grab a tissue before reading your next post. :) This was really great.

  12. That was an amazing post and yes right out of a fairy tale story book. I wanted to make a motion of closing the pages with my hands, and state, "And they lived happily ever after." that was really beautiful. Thanks for the detail and the poetic verse. Loved it, and like I said before, you are going to inspire everyone to try and go this route!

  13. This post made me cry. I love how you captured all of the emotions of the day. I really loved the end when you said, Finally we could begin. Amen sister, Amen!

  14. Great posts. It has been fun to learn about the Academy through these last 3 posts. What a great place to attend school and serve your country all at the same time. This makes me even more proud of our service men and women.


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