Senior Air Force cadets leapt into the fountains of the Air Force Academy's "Air Gardens" fountains this week to celebrate the completion of their final exams before graduation.

It's a informal graduation ceremony that comes ahead of the rites planned for May 23 in Falcon Stadium, where Defense Secretary Jim Mattis will deliver the keynote address.

The tradition - allowed only to seniors who have completed their last test as a cadet - is believed to be as old as the academy itself, with the first class of graduates taking the plunge in the spring of 1959.

On Wednesday, seniors gathered in front of one of the fountains on the Terrazzo - the central grounds of the qcademy campus.

Seniors Michael Bourdeau and Andy Millan stood soaking wet and smiling as they watched their peers jump in.

The tradition is witnessed by freshman cadets as they finish up their first year at the academy, said Millan. For him, it provided motivation.

"I thought, man, I can't wait to jump in that fountain," he said.

His friend nodded in agreement.

"It is something you really look forward to, it's the final milestone," Bourdeau said. "We are basically there."

Both Bourdeau and Millan are enlisted airmen who attended the academy's preparatory school for a year before becoming cadets.

Before entering the academy, Bourdeau was in communications while Millan was a boom operator, responsible for refueling other aircraft from a military tanker like the KC-10.

Both agreed that the journey has been a long one, but that "long road" has added extra value, they said.

"Being at the tail end of it all is just surreal," Bourdeau said.

Another senior, George Nifakos, also took the plunge Wednesday.

"I thought it was honestly one of the coolest traditions they have here," he said. "It was a long time coming."

Nifakos also came up through the academy's preparatory school, taking five years to reach the fountains.

Now he is less than two weeks from earning his lieutenant's bars.

"I don't think it hit me until I hit that incredibly cold water," he said.

As Nifakos and other seniors await the graduation ceremony, they will busy themselves with packing their rooms, buying uniforms and preparing for the next step in their careers.

But before preparing for his future, a soaking wet Nifakos remembered his past.

He recalled the basic training cadets go through the summer before their freshman year.

"After we do the assault course, the hardest part, we walked under a water spout to wash ourselves off of the dirt and sweat," Nifakos said. "Jumping into the fountain reminded me of that.

"It's like connecting the beginning to the end."

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