The Air Force Academy will graduate nearly 1,000 seniors Saturday in an 11 a.m. ceremony that comes with a long list of "firsts."

- It's the first class to graduate without cheering crowds: The Class of 2020 has lived in isolation since coronavirus hit and they and their other classmates, 3,000 of them, were sent home to study online. They'll graduate in isolation, too, with family and well-wishers watching online. The ceremony will be available for viewing at gazette.com.

While you can't cheer from the stands, you can cheer from afar by flying a flag for graduation day.

- It's the first class to graduate early: The Class of 2020 is graduating six weeks ahead of schedule after spending more than a month on lockdown in the school's dorms to keep them safe from coronavirus.

The last time cadets from any federal service academy were allowed to graduate early came at the height of World War II, before the Air Force Academy opened.

- It's the first class to graduate with new uniform accessories: The academy hired Hollywood icon Cecil B. DeMille to design its first uniforms, and little has changed since. Except for Saturday.

The cadets will wear their blue tunics and white trousers, along with a dress face mask that's designed to keep them safe from coronavirus. Seamstresses at the academy have been at work for weeks to make the face masks.

But that's not the only change. Graduates have traditionally worn a gold sash at the ceremony to symbolize their entrance into the Air Force. Now there will be a smattering of platinum sashes in the crowd, symbolizing the 88 cadets joining the new Space Force.

- First class to give the Front Range an airshow: The Air Force Thunderbirds have given a whirling, turning air show to all but a few graduating classes at the academy. The Class of 2020 gets a single pass from the flying team's F-16s, but those planes will also make a wide sweep over the region, flying from Pueblo to Denver in a salute to the cadets and to the first-responders saving lives amid coronavirus.

- Follow along from home: Keep up with Saturday's graduation at gazette.com for photos, video of the ceremony and more.

Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240

Twitter: @xroederx

Senior Military Editor

Tom Roeder is the Gazette's senior military editor. In Colorado Springs since 2003, Tom covers seven military installations in Colorado, including five in the Pikes Peak region. His main job, though, is being dad to two great kids.

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