An aerial view shows cadets standing in a configuration at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., to from “2023” on April 26, 2023, one month out from their graduation day.

An aerial view shows cadets standing in a configuration at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., to from “2023” on April 26, 2023, one month out from their graduation day. ()

(Tribune News Service) — They were tried and trained over the last four years and on Friday morning the midshipmen Class of 2023 graduated from the United States Naval Academy.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III delivered the keynote address at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium where the retired four-star general acknowledged the challenges the class has faced since they arrived on the Yard in the summer of 2019. Most demanding among them was the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which derailed the end of their plebe year, delaying Sea Trials, Herndon Climb and other traditions saved for first-year midshipmen. Still, Austin said, the class persevered through adversity.

"I know that you are feeling some powerful emotions today, pride, gratitude, relief and maybe a bit of shock," he said. "Let me be clear. You are ready. You chose to come to this academy and despite challenges that nobody imagined, you chose to keep coming back."

When the pandemic struck in March 2020, the academy sent the brigade home after spring break. Commissioning Week events were canceled and graduation was held online.

"You were just starting to feel like a family," Austin said. "But you hung in there and took care of each other. You found ways to adapt like firing up grills on the Yard for Thanksgiving dinner or doing squats with jugs of water in your parents' basement."

"Sea Trials became e-Trials," he added.

Vice Adm. Sean Buck, in his final speech as Naval Academy superintendent, challenged the graduating class to "be the best version of yourself." Buck will leave his post this summer and all but certainly make way for Rear. Adm. Yvette Davids who was nominated in April to serve as the school's first female leader.

"Like every class that has come before you, during your time in Annapolis, your gaze has been necessarily focused on the horizon and the challenges to come," Buck said. "By design your four years by the bay are spent in constant preparation for what comes next as officers in the fleet and the great adventures that awaits each and every one of you."

Of the more than 1,000 midshipmen who graduated Friday, 25 hail from Anne Arundel County, including 11 from Annapolis, five from Severna Park, three from Arnold, two from Millersville and one each from Crownsville, Pasadena, Gambrills and Edgewater.

The majority of the class was commissioned into the Navy or the Marine Corps. Among the graduates who won't be commissioned was Alberto Destarac. Destarac, a 23-year-old Texas resident, was diagnosed with a heredity eye disorder that caused him to start losing his vision last fall. Despite the diagnosis, Destarac chose to complete his degree and become, as far as he knows, the academy's first blind graduate.

Austin acknowledged two members of the class who did not make it to graduation day.

Taylor Connors, 24, died in Philadelphia due to unknown circumstances in June 2022. A month later, on July 16, Luke Bird, 21, died while visiting Chile for a semester abroad program at the Arturo Prat Naval Academy. Bird, a Texas resident, reportedly lost his footing and fell over a waterfall to his death, the academy said.

(c)2023 The Capital (Annapolis, Md.)

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