The United States Coast Guard Academy is preparing for a historic graduation ceremony.
On May 20 the academy will graduate its largest class, the class with the most female cadets and the first class to ever attend a US military academy graduation hosted entirely online.
"A lot of firsts," said Rear Admiral William Kelly, the superintendent of the US Coast Guard Academy. "It was a risk that was too significant to take at this point in time in our nation's history."
The US Coast Guard Academy is the only service academy to host a virtual graduation for the class of 2020. Kelly said that it was not an easy decision to make. He outlined his decision in great detail for the cadets in this video. Kelly said that safety was his top priority and ultimately guided his decision-making process.
"Our students will graduate on the 20th of May and many of them will arrive a week, two weeks, or three weeks after that at their first unit, ready to stand the watch," explained Kelly. "They needed to be healthy, they needed to be ready to go. At the end of the day, that is the reason we made the decision we made."
The academy is working to maintain the time-honored fixtures of graduation for the 255 cadets. The admiral will stand on an empty football field, where graduation was supposed to take place, alongside members of the senior leadership team. He said the cadets will still take their oath of service, just now from home.
"They are going to raise their right hand, they are going to take the oath of office, they are going to turn to their moms and dads. They are going to place the shoulder boards on their uniform and within days they will be packing up their belongings and heading across the country and around the globe to serve our nation," said Kelly.
Laura Irish, a first-class cadet, was picking up some of her belongings from the academy on Tuesday. She said that she is disappointed that she will not be able to graduate in the traditional sense, but she understands the decision.
"I can't be prouder of what I am about to do. Even though we don't get the ending that we were hoping for, it is okay," said Irish. "We did not come here for the big graduation or the drill ceremonies. We came here to get prepared to graduate with a bachelor of science and go serve our country and ultimately that is what we are going to do."
The graduation ceremony will cap off a 200-week program for the cadets that Kelly described as, "intense, grueling, challenging, rewarding."
"It is a 200-week education program, it is a 200-week training program and it is a 200-week leader development program that prepares them to graduate ready to serve their nation as officers in the United States Coast Guard," said Kelly.
Julia Gavin, a first-class cadet from Stonington, said that she has been looking forward to the graduation ceremony after a tough four years, however she said that she feels prepared to start serving the country and is eager to start working as a student engineer on Coast Guard Cutter Hamilton.
"I know that they trained all of us to go and do our job," said Gavin.
Irish also said that she feels prepared and is thankful for her time at the academy.
"Don't discount what we go through here. Life here is difficult. I am really proud to have been able to make it through this program," said Irish.
Kelly, who has attended the academy's graduation ceremony both as a cadet and a parent of a cadet, said that he will keep that sacrifice top of mind.
"I value it. I respect it. I am privileged and honored to be a part of it," said Kelly.
You can watch the May 20 virtual graduation live here. It will begin at 2 p.m. and contain video that is both live-streamed and prerecorded.