I’ll admit that I’ve been pretty selfish these past few weeks. My focus has been on my kids and their respective senior years.
MidSib received her appointment to the United States Air Force Academy Prep School, but her prom (named America’s Best Prom by Reader’s Digest) and her graduation hung in limbo. We’ve sat in on virtual school board meetings, made numerous phone calls, and wrote countless emails.
My Mid, of course, saw his final semester evaporate into an online environment with the Naval Academy planning to graduate and commission the Class of 2020 in the same manner – 100% online. I had watched USAFA engineer an in-person ceremony (with significantly different circumstances) and read that West Point would do the same.
While I commiserated with fellow parents online and wrote everyone I could think of (including Maryland’s governor), the only time I thought of USNA’s superintendent (VADM Sean Buck) was in the context of “what the heck is he doing?”
I didn’t really take a moment to realize that this was not the Spring Buck and his diligent right-hand man, Commandant T.R. Buchanan had envisioned. You see, while this is the last year for the Class of 2020, it is the first year for Buck and Buchanan in positions many others covet.
I can only imagine how they felt as USNA graduates anticipating their first Herndon Climb as the Academy’s leaders, watching their first Plebe class scale the monument to fulfill that tradition. As their first Commissioning Week rolled on, they would be the gracious hosts at battalion receptions and watch their Firsties take to the dance floor in mess dress during the ball.
Finally, they would stand under the dazzling sun on the stage at the stadium, the echo of the Blue Angels trailing off in the distance. One by one, they would watch their first graduating class cross the stage and then see the class collectively fulfill their destiny by tossing those combination covers into the sky.
Instead, in the span of a few weeks, they had to figure out how to complete half a semester’s worth of high-level education without proven infrastructure, adjust schedules for mission-critical summer training, and puzzle over how to induct the Class of 2024. But that’s what leadership is about – focusing on the mission, the objective, and making the best decisions possible with the best information available.
In the end, history will judge Buck’s decision to bring back the Firsties in small cohorts for private commissioning events. But in the now, it can only be judged as the best possible solution under the most difficult of circumstances. It does not come without risk and it certainly does not come easily.
It’s easy to sit at this keyboard and say, “hey, why not just bring them back 200 at a time and process them through over the course of two days and repeat that five times.” It’s easy because I don’t have to worry about the logistics of clearing out several hundred dormitory rooms or ensuring all those vehicles get moved off The Yard. It’s easy because if any of the Firsties get diagnosed with COVID-19 over the next several weeks, no one is going to point at me and say, “It’s all your fault.”
Yet, Buck and Buchanan have done what great leaders do. They did not take the easy way out. Nor did they did not drive recklessly forward. Instead, they moved with cautious urgency, evaluating an ever-changing torrent of information and balancing an array of shifting priorities against the rich traditions of the Academy, all while maintaining an unwavering focus on the key aspects of the mission.
The Class of 2020 arrived on The Yard as individuals and over the course of these past four years have been melded into a singular group. While they will leave as different people, they will finish exactly where they started – receiving their commission in Tecumseh Court, the very place where they took their Oath of Office on Induction Day. They will have come full circle, in no small part because of the leadership of Vice Admiral Buck and Captain Buchanan, who have set an example that our graduating Firsties would be wise to follow.
Bravo Zulu to the USNA leadership and the Class of 2020. While we won’t be on The Yard to witness the commissioning event, we look forward to seeing it all come together via video on 22 May 2020.
Also: Many thanks to the forever anonymous members of Operation James Lawrence.
As we prepare to celebrate:
We won’t get a Herndon Climb, but there’s no reason we can’t share the excitement: