The U.S. Naval Academy has officially canceled all of this year’s Commissioning Week events amid concern over the COVID-19 pandemic, the academy announced.
Traditional class events like the Herndon Climb and Ring Dance have also been suspended in accordance to social distancing guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“This was a very difficult decision to come to,” academy Superintendent Vice Adm. Sean Buck said in a release, “but due to the national impact of the coronavirus, I have canceled our traditional Commissioning Week public events in order to safeguard the health and welfare of the entire Naval Academy family and local community, which has been my number one strategic priority since the onset of this pandemic.”
Buck added that the academy still intends to graduate and commission the Class of 2020 midshipmen, although the amended ceremony will be noticeably absent several traditions.
“The Class of 2020 has worked tirelessly for nearly four years for this milestone,” he said. “I believe we owe it to them to exhaust all efforts in our decision-making and planning process to make this special for them, within the guidelines we’re operating under.”
The suspension of events marks the first major adjustment to the academy’s commissioning in nearly a century.
“There are certain rites of passage unique to the Naval Academy that every graduate reflects positively upon and thus helps to define and strengthen the Naval Academy experience,” Commandant of Midshipmen Capt. T.R. Buchanan said in the release.
“Even if not held this May, our midshipmen still deserve the opportunity to enjoy those milestone events.”
The Naval Academy’s decision follows similar measures taken by officials at the U.S. Air Force Academy, which announced it will graduate its cadet Class of 2020 on April 18 — about a month ahead of the originally planned May 28 graduation date at Falcon Stadium.
What the Air Force Academy’s ceremony will look like remains to be seen, but adhering to CDC guidelines likely means no guests — family or friends — will be permitted to attend due to safety concerns.
The coastal Maryland town of Annapolis, meanwhile, could be hit hard by the academy’s decision to suspend public events.
Hotels, grocery and liquor stores are likely to lose out in the significant bump in revenue typically generated by commissioning events, according to the Capital Gazette.
“We’re sad, but obviously public safety is the most important thing,” Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley told the Gazette.
“We’re all having to make adjustments so we can get to the other side of this pandemic. I feel bad for the families who are not going to have the beautiful ceremony that goes on with it, no Blue Angels and all that.”
Refunds are expected to be issued to families who purchased suites for the original graduation ceremony, which was to be held at Navy Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, the Gazette reported.
Academy officials said they will provide the Class of 2020 and family members more information on what the commissioning will look like as it becomes available.
Jon Simkins is a writer and editor for Military Times, and a USMC veteran.