Graduation day arrived Friday for the last class to enter the U.S. Naval Academy before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on America. The graduates watched the Blue Angels pilots fly supersonic jets low over the Navy-Marine Corps Stadium and listened to President Bush deliver the commencement address.
The president shook hands with each of the 976 graduates during the academy's 155th graduation ceremony. Under a blue, sunny sky, he gave an optimistic assessment of the war on terrorism, but also cautioned the graduates that "difficult and dangerous work remains."
"American people are depending on you to uphold the high ideals you learned here as midshipmen," Bush said. "I know that in the war on terror, the members of the Class of 2005 will walk with honor, and you will make America proud."
Then, following tradition, the midshipmen tossed their caps into the air and celebrated the fruits of years of hard work. They traded their midshipmen's anchors for the bars of ensigns and second lieutenants, then embarked on new lives as young Navy and Marine officers in a post-Sept. 11 world.
The graduates howled and cheered for one another as names were called to receive diplomas. Among the loudest cheers came for Trevor Cooper Thompson of Kent, Wash., who graduated at the top of the class, and Kyle Eckel, the 10-2 football team's star fullback, who graduated at the bottom of the class, a position traditionally known as the anchor man.
The graduation also capped commissioning week, one of the biggest annual events in Annapolis. There was the Herndon Hustle, where plebes attempted to fulfill academy legend that says the first plebe to scale the lard-covered, 21-foot-tall Herndon Monument, snatch a plebe's white hat from the top and replace it with an upperclassman's hat will be the first to become an admiral.
There was also pageantry: the Dedication Parade honoring the Naval Academy faculty on May 23 and the Parade of Colors on May 26, one of the academy's oldest dress ceremonies.
The Class of 2005 included more than 200 Marines, the most ever in a graduating class, according to academy officials. Of the remaining graduates, 21 will join the SEAL commando combat unit and the rest will pursue work in Navy aviation, surface ships or submarines.
After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, applications at the service academies increased, but those numbers have since declined to previous levels. The Naval Academy's Class of 2005 graduation rate is 78.7 percent, slightly lower than the rate of the three previous classes but in line with the 10-year average.
-- Ray Rivera