Thunderbirds fly over the U.S. Air Force Academy Class of 2016 Graduation ceremony at Falcon Stadium in Colorado Springs, Colorado, June 2, 2016. More than 800 cadets graduated to become the newest 2nd Lieutenants in the USAF. (U.S. Air Force photo by Mike Kaplan)
By Rindi White
Grandparents play a special part in the lives of young men and women going through the rigorous physical and mental training at our nation’s elite service academies. Whether it’s Army, Navy, Marine or Coast Guard, every cadet or plebe needs well-timed words of encouragement and the occasional care package to help them feel loved and supported.
But after four years of supportive phone calls and packages (and perhaps the occasional visit), what’s the best way to help your cadet or plebe through the graduation process?
Here are a few tips:
Attend commencement. Your cadet or plebe has worked hard to become a commissioned officer – this is a time to celebrate all his or her hard work. Each service academy has a variety of events scheduled around the commissioning ceremony, so this is also a good time to learn more about your loved one’s chosen branch. From commencement dinners and balls to moonlight cruises, guided boat tours, parades and an aerial performance by the Blue Angels, each service academy has a unique lineup of events.
Three things to know about attending graduation weekend:
1. Bring proper identification. The service academies are military bases, so anyone 16 years and older should bring two forms of valid identification (check with your service academy for more information about what identification is allowed) and, if driving onto the grounds, be prepared to have your vehicle searched and perhaps your bags checked or to be asked to go through a metal detector. On graduation day, many academies have every visitor go through security, so allot extra time prior to the ceremony.
2. If you’re planning to attend, act quickly, as tickets to key events are often offered on a first-come, first-served basis and some events sell out fast. It’s a good idea to book hotel rooms or rented living space early as well; some service academies recommend booking as far as a year in advance.
3. Dress for success. Nearly every graduation or commissioning event requires walking, so bring good walking shoes. Guests who need special accommodation can bring a wheelchair or rent a transport chair locally. Many graduation events, including the commencement ceremony, are held outdoors unless the weather is bad, so bring appropriate clothing. Many of the other events are more casual, but some require formal dress (such as tuxedos and long evening gowns), so be sure to find out what is appropriate before packing.
If you can’t attend physically, it may still be possible to share in the celebration. Most service academies provide a link online where the ceremony can be viewed.
Get a gift. Your plebe or cadet has spent four years at the academy, where personal belongings are very limited. Although still limited as an ensign or second lieutenant, he or she will likely have a little more space during his or her next assignment. Here are a few gift ideas:
- Nice dress watch: If your cadet or plebe wears a watch, having a nice dress watch to wear with his or her dress uniform is a good idea – perhaps one engraved with the service academy’s crest.
- Officer’s sword or saber, or other uniform needs: Some newly commissioned officers are required to have a sword upon graduation. Your cadet or plebe may need other uniform items – perhaps even basics, like new boots. Ask to see what might need to be replaced or updated.
- Memorabilia: Several online companies offer gifts that are emblazoned with service academy crests, from beer steins to lamps. Or you could buy a useful item, such as a tablet, and have it engraved with a crest or message. A digital picture frame is another nice memento that your loved one can keep with him or her. For those who sew, a quilt with the academy crest on it would likely be cherished.
- Civilian clothes: Many cadets or plebes have spent their academy time almost exclusively wearing military-issue clothes. They might jump at the chance for a shopping trip for some civis.
- Money: It’s an easy gift, but it’s also probably the most appreciated. Include a nice card to make it more personal.
Continue the support. A service academy graduate’s work doesn’t end after graduation. Some would say it only begins there. Some graduates may receive scholarships to attend military or civilian graduate schools following graduation. Others might be selected for medical, dental or law school. Even if not selected for continuing education automatically, it’s likely your graduate will choose to attend further schooling to improve his or her job prospects. They will need your ongoing encouragement, thoughtful advice and perhaps a few well-timed care packages through the next stage of their life.