AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo.—In a symbolic nod to normalcy, Vice President Mike Pence delivered a commencement address to the U.S. Air Force Academys graduating class on Saturday, telling the cadets that by setting off on their mission to defend the nation they “inspire confidence that we will prevail against the invisible enemy in our time as well.”
Pences trip, only his second outside Washington in the last six weeks, was aimed at showing that the country is on course to gradually reopening after weeks of shutdown due to the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, commonly known as novel coronavirus.
He spoke at a scaled-down ceremony at the academy outside Colorado Springs, where hundreds of graduating cadets in blue and white dress uniforms sat eight feet apart, taking up an area nearly as large as a football field.
“I know we gather at a time of great challenge in the life of our nation,” Pence said as he began his remarks. “And while we dont quite look like the usual graduation at the Air Force Academy, let me tell you, this is an awesome sight. And I wouldnt be anywhere else but with the 62nd class of the Air Force Academy, the class of 2020.”
The event usually attracts a big crowd to Falcon Stadium, which has a maximum capacity of more than 46,000. President Donald Trump spoke last year. But this year, the pandemic forced the academy to close the ceremony to visitors, including friends and family of the nearly 1,000 graduates.
Still, the ceremony featured its signature dramatic flyover by the Air Force Thunderbirds, which thundered overhead as the graduates threw their hats into the air and burst into cheers. But instead of being able to embrace their fellow graduates, the cadets remained several feet apart and then proceeded to tie on white face masks.
“You knew your graduation day would be memorable. But did you imagine that your commencement would take place in mid-April? Or that each of us would have a face mask at the ready? Or that you would march a COVID-compliant eight feet apart to the terrazzo?” asked Barbara Barrett, secretary of the Air Force.
As the ceremony began, graduates lined up outside and silently saluted the vice presidents motorcade as he arrived on a near-empty campus shortly after 11 a.m. local time. They later filed into a stadium that was absolutely silent but for the drum roll and the rustling of starched pants marching in place.
At one point Pence asked the graduates to applaud the friends and family who “couldnt be here because of the extraordinary times in which we live.” The cadets quickly rose to their feet, cheering and waving to those watching from home.
While much of the ceremony focused on the graduates, many of whom will be joining the new Space Force, Pence also spoke about the governments response to the virus.
Still, he said, for “Americans looking on from around the country at this very hour, seeing you brave men and women setting off on your mission to defend this nation” would “inspire confidence that we will prevail against the invisible enemy in our time as well.”