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Air Force Academy moves up graduation after cadet deaths

Newly-minted Air Force second lieutenants cheer and toss their hats at the end of the U.S. Air Force Academy's Class of 2017 graduation ceremony, May 24, 2017, at Falcon Stadium.

BILL EVANS/U.S. AIR FORCE

By STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 1, 2020

The Air Force Academy has moved graduation up by more than a month to mid-April as it continues to fight the coronavirus and grapples with the suspected suicides of two seniors, the superintendent of the academy said in a message to cadets.

“On April 18th, the class of 2020 will receive their diplomas in a ceremony designed by cadets,” Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria said in the message, which was posted in academy Facebook groups.

“It will not be the traditional graduation ceremony you have imagined for years, but it can be one of a kind and unique … like the class of 2020,” said superintendent Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria in a message announcing graduation would be held April 18.

The decision to move graduation forward was taken after two cadets were found dead in their rooms last week in what investigators believe were suicides.

The deaths caused the academy to rethink the strict restrictions imposed on graduating seniors, who have remained on campus since underclassmen were dismissed nearly three weeks ago as part of the academy’s efforts to fight the coronavirus.

“We are at war with … a global pandemic, and that fight is unconventional,” Silveria said.

“As a commander in conventional conflicts I had years of history to call on when making decisions – a playbook we don’t have as we battle this pandemic,” he said, announcing that graduation was being moved up by nearly six weeks from its original date of May 28.

“We must make unconventional decisions and take what some would consider extreme measures,” Silveria said.

The new ceremony, which the graduating class is planning itself, will allow cadets to “celebrate together while ensuring their health and safety by adhering to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Department of Defense guidelines” against the coronavirus, a post on a Facebook page for alumni said.

No guests, including family and friends, will be allowed to attend the ceremony in person, but it will be livestreamed, the post said.

The date change came after Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett, Gen. David Goldfein, the service chief of staff, and Gen. John Raymond, the chief of space operations, visited the academy Monday and spoke with cadets to try to work through some of the issues they’ve faced during the pandemic, Air Force Academy officials said in a statement.

Later the same day, Silveria said that, after consulting with cadets and medical professionals, the academy would allow “two cadets in a room again, if they so choose.”

On Tuesday, some recreational facilities were reopened for cadets, harsh punishment for breaching social distancing rules were waived, and more restrictions were lifted, including a ban on leaving campus, several cadets told Stars and Stripes.

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