The Air Force Academy is so rigorous that cadets quickly learn to just immerse themselves in that world to survive. It becomes easy to forget that there could ever be an end to those four years. And, in fact, there is not—because graduation from the Academy is merely a new beginning of their career in the military. The entire purpose of those four years is not simply to earn a degree, to gain management experience, to achieve peak physical condition, or to learn about winning wars and championing peace. When all is said and done, the Academy builds men and women of character to lead the United States Air Force and accomplish a greater good in the world.
For seniors at USAFA, their lives as Lieutenants begin right before their lives as cadets end. Tuesday night—the night before graduation—the cadets participate in their commissioning ceremonies. Luckily for me, these ceremonies are formal affairs which also include a Graduation Ball. (Yes please, and thank you. There are definitely perks to marrying a cadet.)
Each squadron hosts its own commissioning ceremony, and they draw out of a lottery for the order in which they select their location. Matt’s squadron were the lucky ducks who were able to select the Air Gardens--probably the most picturesque place you could imagine for such an event. Unfortunately, a storm was rolling in that night and the ceremonies were all moved inside. Thus, the Fighting Bulldawgs of 13 ended up commissioning in a gym. But I’m pretty sure the cadets were too ecstatic to care.
The commissioning ceremony begins with a few speakers and formalities, and then the cadets take the Officer’s Oath in alphabetical order. Each cadet selects the higher-ranking officer whom they wish to administer the oath. Naturally, Matt asked our dear friend and his mentor, Major Steve Hendricks, to administer his.
Once the oath is completed, the cadet shoulder boards must be replaced by gold Lieutenant bars. Cadets ask someone who has supported them throughout their time at the Academy to perform this step. Matt naturally selected his soon-to-be wife to do the honors.
And with that, Matt became a Second Lieutenant in the United States Air Force. The squadron provided refreshments afterward and Matt was able to catch up with family, friends, and Colonel Mackenzie and Sergeant Winters. They had led Matt’s squadron until they were transferred before his senior year and had each flown back to support their cadets.
After the ceremony came the party—the Graduation Ball! Matt and I met up with our friends and their dates and strolled around the Terrazzo before hitting the dance floor.
And then, we danced the night away—quite literally. Matt and I stayed until the very last note of the very last song, reveling in the excitement of their last night at the Academy and wishing it could last forever.