Notes from the Air Force Academy graduation on Wednesday:
By the numbers
- 41,268 cadets have graduated from the academy since the first class in 1959, including 619 who became generals
- 995 cadets graduated from the Air Force Academy on Wednesday; 761 men and 234 women
- 15 were international students
- 1 set of twins
- 445 are headed to pilot training
- 1,294 members of the Class of 2014 entered the academy on June 24, 2010
- 23 percent of the class left the academy over the four years
- 68 graduates had a parent who attended the academy
- 2.98 was the average cadet GPA
Biden plays Ironman
Vice President Joe Biden shook hands with all 995 graduates, despite temperatures measured at 90 degrees on the floor of Falcon Stadium. Graduation speakers often shake hands with the top 10 percent of the graduating class and then take a seat.
Biden also shook hands with every graduate when he last addressed the Air Force Academy's commencement in 2009.
Old home week
Graduation was a return of sorts for many at Falcon Stadium. Biden returned to address the graduates, five years after his first Air Force commencement speech. And, after a year hiatus, the Air Force Thunderbirds were back in business.
After accepting their oath of office, graduates looked around, eager for the defining moment. Then the Thunderbirds zoomed over, hats flew and children from the audience sprinted across the turf in pursuit of the $20.14 inside each cap, signifying the graduation year - an academy tradition.
The academy welcomes children ages 7 to 10 onto the field each year to collect the cadets' hats. As kids swarmed around, hugging graduates, one new second lieutenant high-fived the boy who picked up her hat. Both grinned.
On top of the world
"That was the best feeling of my life," said Moshood Adeniji, a graduate from Texas.
Adeniji, a starting right guard on the Air Force football team last fall, recalled his first days at the academy. "It was rough," he said. "Without great friends, coaches and teachers, I don't think I could have done this."
Adeniji's family moved to Texas from Nigeria. He is the first in his family to graduate from college in the U.S.
The Pacific Ocean got bigger
Biden talked about America's emphasis on foreign relations in the Pacific, which includes moving Air Force assets to the region.
"It will be equally essential in the decades ahead to knit together Pacific nations from the shores of India to the Americas," he said, apparently forgetting that India touches the Indian Ocean, which then meets the Pacific.
Speaking of Pacific partners
Carlos Pacheco of Quito, Ecuador, said he was drawn to the academy "by the challenge," although a scholarship was the final nudge to enroll.
After tossing his cap, Pacheco draped the Ecuadorian flag around him. His parents and other family members flew from Quito for the ceremony.
"It's the beginning of a new era," Pacheco said. "Mission accomplished."
Pacheco graduated with a degree in management and will return to Ecuador to teach as a professor at the Ecuadorian Air Force Academy.
Edward Galloway Jr. traveled from Lakewood, Calif., to watch his son, Edward Galloway III, graduate. The younger Galloway's cousins from Orlando, Fla., also attended. "He's always been interested in planes. That was his path," said Edward Galloway Jr., who draped a white towel on his head to protect him from the blistering sun.
At the Air Force Academy, first comes love, then graduation, then marriage.
Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James told the crowd of 22,000 that more than 20 weddings are scheduled at the academy for the Class of 2014.
Cadets are forbidden to marry, but are free to tie the knot after graduation.
Some of the couples met inside the academy's halls, James said.
"I hear there has been some Falcon love going on," she said.
A break before duty calls
Many cadets expressed excitement for the 60 days away from duty that they're granted after graduation.
2nd Lt. Nicholas Losoya, a graduating cadet who arrived at the academy as a football recruit and left as a varsity rugby athlete, plans on traveling across the country in an RV with eight classmates.
"They plan on visiting everyone's hometown," said Bill Downs, who traveled from Maine to watch Losoya, his son, graduate.
Tom Roeder and Ben Bartenstein, The Gazette