Pride, relief as Coast Guard graduates prepare for new challenges
By NORWICH BULLETIN, CONN. Published: May 18, 2017
NEW LONDON, Conn (Tribune News Service) — The graduating cadets sat quietly and ramrod straight for most of Wednesday's 136th U.S. Coast Guard Academy's graduation ceremony as crowds cheered, whistled and applauded.
But after the ceremony ended, carefully checked emotions spilled over as the 195 newly commissioned ensigns embraced their fellow officers and family members with unbridled joy on the grounds of Cadet Memorial Field.
"I've wanted this for a long time," said 23-year-old New London resident Patrick Hanrahan, as tears streamed down his smiling face.
Hanrahan's mother, Louise, described her son as a "humble boy" who never sought the spotlight.
"He grew up in an old-fashioned family unit with all his grandparents living within a block of us and helped us raise him," she said. "His grandfather, Joe Strazzo, a World War II Marine veteran, would be so proud of him today."
Hanrahan will be assigned to a drug interdiction duty in Portsmouth, N.H., a job he said he's been well-prepared to carry out.
"But no matter where I end up, New London will always be my home and I'm excited to use the skills I've learned and come back to this community where my family – who I'm so grateful to – lives," he said.
At times it was harder to see who was more proud, the graduating cadets or the families who dropped them off more than four years ago.
"It's just a great day," said Voluntown native and Norwich Free Academy graduate Katherine Beasley, 21. "I don't think I understood what this would involve, but I do now."
Beasley's father, Robert, a U.S. Navy veteran, said his daughter's rise to the rank of officer held a special meaning for him.
"I was enlisted, as were many other members of our family," he said. "She's the first officer in the family and that means a lot."
Wednesday's graduating class boasted an impressive pedigree with an average class GPA of 3.92 and an average SAT score of 1,277. Nearly 90 percent of the class had earned a high school varsity sports letter.
Colchester resident Christine McAllister watched from a packed set of bleachers with 15 members of her family as her son, Matthew, became a commissioned officer.
"I'm proud and relieved – it was a tremendous challenge, academically and from the military side," she said. "But he was determined and tenacious and pulled through."
U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Paul Zukunft warned the cadets their real work – stopping drug and human smuggling, breaking ice and protecting the seas and shores – is just getting started.
"And I can't get you fast enough," he said. "I am entrusting the lives (of your subordinates) to your judgment. A leader isn't about what's worn on your shoulders, but what you hold in your heart."
President Donald Trump, who gave Wednesday's keynote address, also spoke of the challenges ahead.
"You'll serve as deck watch officers on our amazing Coast Guard cutters," he said. "You'll bring law and order to the dangerous waters as boating officers. You will block illegal shipments of cash, weapons and drugs. You will battle the scourge of human trafficking. Americans will place their trust in your leadership, just as they have trusted in generations of Coast Guard men and women, with respect for your skill, with awe at your courage, and with the knowledge that you will always be ready."
For Willimantic resident Casey Dieter-Leeds, 24, graduation day meant he was one step closer to his first assignment: Deck officer on a 210-foot cutter stationed in Florida.
"I'm excited and prepared," he said. "It's been a long four years, but today is the cherry on top of everything."
Peter Leeds, Dieter-Leeds' father, said his son was always a goal-oriented person, one who made his decision to attend the Academy after taking part in an introduction program the summer of his junior year.
"I asked him if this was something he wanted to do," Leeds said. "He told me, 'I am going.' Today is the culmination of a journey for Casey, for me and our whole family."
©2017 Norwich Bulletin, Conn.
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