For some, staying at home and taking coronavirus precautions feels like prison.
But Capt. Charlie Plumb knows what real imprisonment is like.
The former Navy pilot addressed the Naval Academy Class of 2020 as the first voice in the academy’s video-commissioning to tell midshipmen that despite the disruption of their final days at the academy, their spirits will not be broken.
“Imprisonment taught me no chains can shackle the human spirit and when we stand for something greater than ourselves, dreams come true,” Plub said.
The perseverance of the Class of 2020 was echoed throughout a mix of recorded and livestream video Friday — including by notable voices from around the nation.
The ceremony was kicked off with video shoutouts from athletes, sports announcers, politicians and actors all thanking the Class of 2020 and sending their support.
The video included live speeches from inside the mostly empty Naval Academy auditorium as well as pre-recorded segments from five private swearing-in ceremonies that took place on the Yard over the past two weeks including the Blue Angels surprise flyover Wednesday.
Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, the keynote speaker, told the class that in spite of the crisis, they stayed true to their class motto: “We will find a way or make one.”
He talked about the importance of maintaining American military superiority.
“You will be at the helm of the most lethal and advanced Naval and Marine force operating on above beneath and from the seven seas,” Esper said. “You will master the oceans and control the laterals. This will be an exciting time in our history, exciting and challenging on one hand yet fraught with danger and uncertainty on the other. Opportunity will abound, as will risk. But you, each and every one of you, are ready.”
Superintendent Vice Adm. Sean Buck thanked families for understanding the sacrifice of foregoing a traditional traditioning week before addressing the class.
“Just as you were rounding third base and heading for home plate, you were thrown the wicked curveball of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Buck said.
“Years from now, future classes will learn of the sacrifice you all have made to complete your final spring semester virtually and give up your beloved commissioning week for the good of the country.”
Acting Secretary of the Navy James McPherson told the class that while the circumstances of their commissioning are unusual, that’s the nature of the Navy.
“We can never know for sure what lies over the horizon. That’s why we need great officers like you,” McPherson said.
“This is not the first time Midshipmen have sailed out into heavy seas.”
McPherson recounted the story of the class of 1945, now commemorating their 75th anniversary, who started at the Naval Academy just before Pearl Harbor was bombed on Dec 7, 1941. The class commissioned a year early, the same week as the Normandy Landings and Battle of Saipan.
“For many of them, the promise of four years of camaraderie and tradition had to be condensed into three years of intense preparation,” he said.
McPherson also told the story of Arleigh Burke, who served during World War II and the Korean War before he became Chief of Naval Operations. The 1918 flu pandemic prevented him from finishing high school before he started at the academy.
“He was determined to outwork, outthink and outcompete everyone in order to make up for lost time. And he became one of our greatest innovators,” he said.
“Like Arleigh Burke, you have been trained to question assumptions, to think with agility, and to compete for control of the future battlespace with honor and determination. We cannot know for certain what challenges will unfold, but we know you are ready to define, shape and control the future battlespace.”
Command Chaplain Capt Francis Foley led a moment of reflection for the late Midshipman David Forney before a prayer for the Class of 2020. A moment of silence was later held for Forney, Navy Ensign Josh Watson, Class of 2019, and Midshipman Duke Carrillo, Class of 2021, who also died this year. Watson was one of three sailors killed by a Saudi military officer while training at Pensacola Naval Station.
Between the surprise flyover and the surprise celebrity shootouts, Ensign Thomas Miller did not feel like he missed out on anything by the end of Friday’s ceremony.
Grandson of former long-time Senate President Mike Miller, the newly commissioned Miller said the small ceremonies gave his class some closure. He was one of the lucky 200 to toss his cover as the Blue Angels flew over.
Being welcomed into the Navy by the Secretary of Defense and the Commandant of the Marine Corps General David Berger in the live stream made it all the more special — not to mention getting praise from Bradley Cooper and Tom Cruise.
“That was awesome,” he said.
“The leadership at the academy did a really good job at accommodating us. I had a really great time at the academy.”
Sports figures included NASCAR driver Jesse Iwuii (Class of 2010), Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, Pro Football Hall of Famer and Heisman Trophy winner Roger Staubach (Class of ‘65), former long-time Indiana Pacers basketball player Reggie Miller, Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, former Baltimore Orioles player and Baseball Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr., Olympic gymnast Simone Biles and New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick.
Announcers and journalists Gary Danielson, Boomer Esiason and Vern Lundquist of CBS Sports, Kathyrn Tappen of NBC sports, CNN Sports anchor Coy Wire, WBAL TV anchor Jennifer Franciotti, “The Today Show” meteorologist Al Roker, Charles Barkley and Tony Dungy gave their kudos to the class along with astronauts Wendy Lawrence (Class of ‘81), Nicole Mann (class of ‘99) and — recording his video from the International Space Station — Capt. Chris Cassidy.
Politicians including Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, Annapolis Mayor Buckley, Former Secretaries of State Condoleezza Rice and George Shultz thanked the class for their resilience along with the staff of Anne Arundel Medical Center and musician Jimmy Buffet.
Actor Gary Sinese also sent a video shoutout after he was named an honorary member of Class of 2020 later in the ceremony along with Command Master Chief Jeff Kirby and Commander Kelly Lang who in far ends of the stands of the nearly empty auditorium.
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