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- President Donald Trump recently announced he plans to move forward with delivering the commencement address in-person for this year’s West Point graduation ceremony.
- The announcement stunned school officials and raised concerns about safety, the New York Times reported, given it requires recalling 1,000 cadets to the campus — located roughly an hour from New York City.
- Vice President Mike Pence last Saturday delivered the commencement address in person for 2020 graduates of the US Air Force Academy. The ceremony was scaled back significantly due to coronavirus.
- The US Naval Academy decided it was too dangerous to recall graduating midshipmen for this year’s ceremony, opting to hold a virtual event instead.
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President Donald Trump’s recent announcement he’d be speaking at West Point’s graduation ceremony stunned officials at the school and raised serious concerns about the safety of the 1,000 cadets who are being recalled as a result, The New York Times reported on Friday.
Universities across the US, including West Point, have sent students home due to the novel coronavirus, which causes the disease COVID-19.
The graduation ceremony had initially been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, but Trump’s April 17 announcement reportedly kicked planning for the event into gear.
“I’m doing it at West Point, which I look forward to,” Trump said at the daily White House press briefing a little over a week ago. “I did it last year at Air Force, I did it at Annapolis, I did it at the Coast Guard Academy, and I’m doing it at West Point. And I assume they’re — they’ve got it, and I understand they’ll have distancing. They’ll have some big distance, and so it’ll be very different than it ever looked.”
West Point officials were previously unaware Trump planned to move forward with the commencement address, now slated for June 13, which will mark his first graduation speech at the US military academy in New York state. The campus is roughly an hour from New York City, the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in the US, which has the world’s highest numbers of reported cases and fatalities.
“He’s the commander in chief, that’s his call,” Sue Fulton, a West Point graduate and former chairwoman of the academy’s Board of Visitors, said of the president. “Cadets are certainly excited about the opportunity to have something like the classic graduation, standing together, flinging their hats in the air.”
But Fulton also said that “everyone is leery about bringing 1,000 cadets into the New York metropolitan area for a ceremony,” adding, “It’s definitely a risk.”
White House officials told the Times that Trump left the decision up to school officials, and that he could potentially reassess the decision to participate closer to the date of the ceremony depending on the state of the coronavirus crisis in the US.
Last Saturday, Vice President Mike Pence delivered the commencement address in person for 2020 graduates of the US Air Force Academy, in which cadets wore face masks, marched six feet apart, and were placed in socially distanced seats (eight feet apart). The ceremony was closed to visitors, meaning no family members or other spectators were permitted to attend.
The West Point graduation will seemingly feature similar restrictions. In a statement released Wednesday, West Point said the ceremony “will look different from recent graduation ceremonies due to current force health protection requirements.”
Meanwhile, the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, decided a traditional ceremony is too risky amid the coronavirus pandemic and is instead set to hold a virtual event for its graduating midshipmen.
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West Point officials did not return Business Insider’s request for comment.