Driving toward the Air Force Academy on Thursday morning, Brian Poythress paused and began to weep. He was about to graduate.
By early afternoon, the Birmingham, Ala., native had shaken President Donald Trump’s hand and completed his time at the academy.
“To be commissioned by the president has to be the coolest thing in the world,” Poythress said. “It feels like a 10,000-pound blanket just slid off my shoulders. I can’t believe it. I feel like I’ll still have to go to class tomorrow.”
But he won’t. Poythress now is a second lieutenant in the Air Force, alongside nearly 1,000 other academy graduates who tossed their caps in the air Thursday as the branch’s Thunderbird air squadron flew overhead.
Some repeated Poythress’ sentiment. Many were speechless. Others cried and embraced.
“You are the ones who will invent and define the next generation of air warfare,” Trump told the Academy's Class of 2019 during his commencement speech. “And you are the ones who will secure American victory, all the time, victory. To dominate the future, America must rule the skies.”
More than 1,240 people were inducted into the Class of 2019, but one-fifth didn’t make it to graduate from one of America’s most rigorous schools. Those who got their diplomas Thursday had an average GPA of 3.07.
The class includes two Rhodes scholars: James Brahm of Huntsville, Ala., and Madison Tung of Santa Monica, Calif.
New 2nd Lt. Parker Hammond, whom Trump called to the stage to congratulate, battled cancer during his time at the Academy.
Joseph Kloc joined the long blue line a day before the ceremony when his grandfather, a centenarian and World War II veteran, commissioned him as a second lieutenant, said Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria, the Air Force Academy’s superintendent.