The U.S. Coast Guard Academy plans on hosting a virtual graduation ceremony on May 20 as a measure to accommodate current social distancing practices implemented in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The academy’s entire corps of cadets were away on spring break when the Department of Defense issued the first of its multiple stay-at-home travel restrictions. Instead of calling for the return of cadets, the academy shifted its courses online.

"This decision was made in the best interest of the health and well-being of our entire Academy family and our local community,” Rear Adm. Bill Kelly, the academy’s superintendent, said in a USCGA release.

“I’d like to thank our faculty and staff who have made it possible to graduate the Class of 2020 on time, and deliver them to their duty stations prepared to serve our nation. The entire Academy community has come together to match an unprecedented mission with unprecedented effort and innovation. I am enormously proud of them.”

Chad Wolf, the acting secretary of Homeland Security is slated to deliver the keynote address, the academy announced. The Commandant of the Coast Guard Adm. Karl Schultz will also be addressing the Class of 2020.

The virtual graduation will mark the commissioning of the largest graduating class in the academy’s entire 144-year history, Coast Guard officials said. Of the 258 graduating cadets, 102 are women — another academy record.

Graduation ceremony measures taken by Coast Guard officials are similar to those instituted by leadership at both the U.S. Air Force Academy and U.S. Naval Academy.

Naval Academy Superintendent Vice Adm. Sean Buck announced this month that all of this year’s Commissioning Week events were being canceled due to COVID-19 concerns.

“This was a very difficult decision to come to,” 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 No. 1 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 suspension of events is 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.”

Officials at the U.S. Air Force Academy, meanwhile, graduated its nearly 1,000-strong cadet Class of 2020 on April 18 — about a month ahead of the originally planned May 28 graduation date at Falcon Stadium.

The scaled-down commencement was held in the center of the Colorado Springs campus. Uniformed cadets donning face masks marched in formations spaced 6 feet apart. More than 36,000 people watched the ceremony on an academy live stream.

Jon Simkins is a writer and editor for Military Times, and a USMC veteran.

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