Wedding bells follow hat toss
For some Air Force Academy cadets, the day held more than a diploma. For graduates Cole Crisp and Trisha King it was also their wedding day.
Military rules forbid cadets from marrying or starting families before they graduate. Crisp and King got lieutenant's bars and wedding rings on the same day.
“We set up yesterday for the wedding and it’s going to be beautiful,” Crisp’s aunt, Millie Stokes said. “It’s going to be out on the deck under and arbor and we have catered dinner.”
After the graduation the two families, who traveled from states across the country including Texas and Utah, planned to drive to Cascade for Crisp and King’s wedding.
“They wanted to get married before they went into training,” Stokes said. “So we thought if we’re all here together and they want to get married we might as well do it.”
Cadets get extra family to cheer
Clusters of families gathered in the stadium stands to cheer on their sons, daughters, sisters, and brothers. But among Fabio Salvioni’s family members, both his biological mom and his local "sponsor mom" cheered in the stands.
The long tradition unites cadets with local families so that Colorado Springs can truly be a home away from home. Nicoletta Mason became a sponsor mom for cadets after her own son started as a freshman at the academy.
"I said, 'Well, what if my son would be away from home, I would love for him to have a family that he can go and relax and pamper him and take care of him,'" Mason said.
That's when Mason became Salvioni's sponsor mom.
"It’s like to be a mom but not a biological mom," Mason said. "So when they need an extra meal, when they need a hug."
Salvioni's biological family is from Italy but live in California. Mason is Italian, too, and said she can give Salvioni comfort that feels like home.
“He loves to come over and we were chatting for an hour in Italian, have coffee," Mason said. "So that’s what a sponsor family is, just like a mom away from home.”
Family tradition comes with graduation
Rachel Jung moved to the U.S. from South Korea when she was 14 years old.
Her sister, CJ Jung, graduated from the academy in 2012, and ever since, Rachel wanted to follow in her footsteps.
When Rachel's graduation day arrived, she earned academic honors.
"Just getting used to a new culture and a new language, I just think that high school prepped me to do well here," Rachel said.
Jung’s mother opened the graduation program book and pointed with pride to the mark for distinguished academic honors next to Rachel's name.
“She worked very hard for this moment,” her sister CJ said. “So it’s a very culminating time and we’re happy to be here to support her.”
Accomplishments draw tears, applause
To graduate from the Air Force Academy, cadets weathered trials of physical, mental and emotional tribulation, but each cadet made it through with their own strengths and weaknesses.
Ryan Clary’s mother, Dawn, said her son was recruited for his soccer skills.
“When he got in, it was just the beginning, with all the things they have to do academically, military and athletically,” Clary said. “It definitely kept the family busy.”
Making sure Ryan could succeed academically was key for Dawn.
“The phone calls home — some were really positive and some were difficult just to help him get through," Dawn said. “But it was all worth it to be here today.”
Through teary eyes Dawn said she got goose bumps walking into the stadium.
"It’s been four years and he’s gone through a lot, has grown up, has matured," Dawn said.
Day was a long time coming for some cadets
Laura Lewis pulled out her phone to show off a picture of her son.
The palm-sized screen showed a beaming 10-year-old wearing a white Air Force Academy graduation cap.
“He caught a hat and I never thought today he would be tossing his own hat,” Lewis said.
Laura Lewis, a colonel in the Air Force, said her family is an Air Force family. Her son Matthew Lewis, was accepted to West Point but he choose to attend the academy instead.
“It’s an emotional day for me," Lewis said.
She spent the previous evening commissioning her son as a 2nd Lt. in the Air Force.
"I was able to administer the oath," Laura Lewis said. "It was awesome."