The USAF Academy Graduation ceremony takes place in May and is held in Falcon Stadium, with thousands of family members, friends, and distinguished guests in attendance. Excited for our son, my family and my 90-year-old grandmother were looking forward to celebrating this special ceremony.
Attending the U.S. Air Force Academy graduation is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that leaves an indelible mark on your memory. It’s a moment of pride and joy for the graduates, their families, and the country as a whole. In addition, the U.S. Air Force graduation is a celebration of academic achievement and a tribute to the graduates’ commitment to serving their nation.
Attending the Graduation Parade
Before the official graduation ceremony, the Academy will host a USAFA Graduation Parade. The parade takes place at Stillman Field. Attending this ceremonial parade is a memorable and exciting experience. However, preparing ahead of time is essential to make the most of this occasion. Here are some tips on how to prepare for attending the USAFA graduation parade:
- Check the weather: The USAFA graduation parade takes place outdoors, so it’s essential to check the weather forecast and dress accordingly. Wear comfortable shoes, sunscreen, and a hat if it’s sunny, and bring a light jacket or raincoat if necessary.
- Seating: Make sure to discuss with your cadet before arriving where they will be on the field so that you can plan to be seated accordingly. If you need wheelchair ramps, they are at both ends of the bleachers. Also, being near your cadet on the field will make it easy for you to connect with your cadet after the ceremonies.
- Arrive Early: The USAFA graduation parade is a popular event, so planning your arrival early is essential. We arrived at 7:30 AM the day of the parade, able to find a parking space close to where the shuttle picked us up and took us to the entrance gate.
- Know the Schedule: The USAFA graduation parade is a formal event, and the schedule is strictly followed. It’s important to know the parade’s start time so you don’t miss any part of the ceremony.
- Security Check: Once you arrive at the gate, you will go through a bag search. You must ensure a clear bag showing all items within the bag.
- Bring the Essentials: Bring water, snacks, and other essentials with you. It’s also important that these items are brought in a clear bag. In addition, if you wish to arrive early, you can tailgate in the parking lot and have a picnic.
- Toilets: Port-O-Potty’s are available if you should need to use the restroom.
- Respect the Occasion: The USAFA graduation parade is a solemn and formal event; showing respect for the occasion and graduates is essential. Avoid loud noises, talking during the parade, and blocking the view of others.
- Follow the Rules: The USAFA graduation parade has specific rules and regulations that must be followed. For example, drones and pets are not allowed, and smoking is prohibited on the Academy grounds.
This is a proud moment for you and your cadet. You will see the cadets and their leaders march across the field while flyovers and parachute jumpers fall from the sky. Also, don’t forget to check out the USAFA Falcon sitting on a cadet’s arm as he greets the crowd.
Be patient upon departure from the stadium, as 20,000 attendees will want to ride the shuttle back to the parking lot.
The graduation ceremony occurs at the U.S. Air Force Falcon Stadium. Offering world-class education and training to prepare cadets for leadership roles in the U.S. Air Force. Today, you will see some of the world’s most skilled and disciplined professionals, and their graduation ceremony reflects their excellence and dedication.
Preparation for this momentous time is vital to having an unhinged day. As each cadet’s family (over 20,000 people) attends the ceremony, extra security measures to navigate and find wheelchair access, it is best to plan ahead.
Here are some recommendations:
Reserving A Wheelchair
If you have someone that wants to attend the USAF Academy graduation and needs a wheelchair, I recommend you make arrangements to rent a wheelchair in Colorado Springs. I researched medical equipment rental businesses and selected Major Medical. Major Medical allowed me to reserve the wheelchair before arriving in Colorado Springs. They fit her for the best wheelchair, gave us easy instructions to operate the chair, and friendly staff answered our questions. If you need to rent a wheelchair, I highly recommend Major Medical.
Items to Bring to Graduation
Attending the U.S. Air Force Academy Graduation as a guest, there are some items that you are allowed to bring with you. However, it’s essential to note that security protocols may vary depending on the year, and the Academy may impose specific restrictions for safety reasons.
Here are some general guidelines:
- Valid ID: To enter the Academy, you must bring a valid photo I.D., such as a driver’s license or passport.
- Tickets: You must have a ticket to enter the graduation ceremony. These tickets are usually distributed to the graduates’ families and friends, so check with your host to ensure you have a ticket.
- Handicap Parking Permit: If you have someone with you that has a handicap parking permit tag that can hang on the review mirror, bring it with you to use in your rental car.
- Small Clear Bag: You may bring small bags, such as purses or backpacks, to carry personal items. However, large bags or backpacks are not permitted. They can not be bigger than 12′ x12′ x6′.
- I bought all family members a USAFA clear bag that was being sold by one of the USAFA parent organizations as a fundraiser. These bags came in handy and made it easy to carry necessary items for different events throughout the weekend.
- Cameras: Cameras and video cameras are still allowed, but tripods, self-sticks, and other large camera equipment are not permitted. It’s also essential to be respectful of the ceremony and not block the view of others with your camera.
- Sunscreen and hats: The graduation ceremony takes place outdoors, so it’s essential to protect yourself from the sun with sunscreen and a hat. However, large hats that may obstruct others’ views are not permitted. Make sure to put sunscreen on any exposed skin. My youngest son got severally sunburned on his ears and neck because he didn’t apply sunscreen on these areas! Great to have some with you to reapply.
- Water Bottles: You can bring water bottles, but they must be empty upon entry. There are also water fountains available throughout the venue. In addition, you can purchase drinks and snacks at the stadium.
- Sunglasses: Sunglasses are helpful due to the bright sunny weather in Colorado.
- Chap Stick/Lip Balm: Your lips will become dry due to the dry climate. Apply lip balm often.
- Wet Wipes: Due to so many people attending the ceremony, I like to have wet wipes to clean my hands after touching railings or when going to the bathroom. They are handy when wiping a seat or cleaning your hands after eating.
- Seating: Portable, collapsible chairs and seat cushions are allowed. However, they must be small enough to fit under your seat or in your lap. If someone in your group is in a wheelchair, they will have a designated seating area.
- Service animals: Service animals are allowed at the graduation ceremony, but pets are not permitted.
- Kleenex: A few tears may be shed as you feel proud and joyful watching your cadet walk across the stage. Make sure to pack some traveling Kleenex tissues.
It’s essential to note that security protocols and restrictions may vary depending on the year, so it’s a good idea to check the Academy’s website or contact your host to confirm the rules and regulations.
What to Wear
If you are attending the U.S. Air Force graduation as a guest, it’s essential to dress appropriately to show respect for the occasion and the graduates. The dress code for the graduation ceremony is generally formal or semi-formal, with men typically wearing dress pants, a dress shirt, and a suit jacket and women wearing a dress or pantsuit. Make sure to select a fabric that is cool and comfortable.
I saw quite a range of dress attire at the graduation. I knew it would be sunny and warm, so I chose a pair of linen pants with a blue and white linen top.
For men, a suit is appropriate but not required.
A white or light-colored dress shirt should be worn, and optional if you wish to wear a tie. Dress shoes and dress socks should also be worn. No sneakers or boots should be worn.
For women, a dress or pantsuit in a conservative color is appropriate. The dress should be knee-length or longer and not too tight or revealing. Dress shoes with a moderate heel and closed-toe are recommended.
It’s important to note that the weather in Colorado Springs can be unpredictable, so it’s wise to bring a jacket or coat if it’s chilly or raining. Sunscreen and sunglasses may also be necessary if it’s a sunny day.
Finally, it’s essential to remember that the U.S. Air Force graduation is a formal and solemn occasion, so it’s important to dress respectfully and conservatively. By dressing appropriately, you can show appreciation for the graduates and their dedication to serving their country.
The ceremony begins with the arrival of the cadets, who march onto the parade ground in perfect formation. The cadets wear their dress blues, which include a ceremonial sabre, gloves, and a hat. As they march, the sound of the drum and bugle corps fills the air, creating a sense of grandeur and solemnity.
The graduation ceremony is presided over by the President of the United States or a high-ranking military official. We had the pleasure of hearing from General James Mattis the year my son graduated. He inspired and motivated the cadets, highlighting the significance of the graduates’ accomplishments and the importance of their future service to the nation.
After Gen. Mattis’s speech, the cadets took the oath of office, pledging to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. This powerful moment symbolizes the cadets’ commitment to serving their country and upholding its values. The oath is followed by the presentation of diplomas, which marks the culmination of years of hard work and dedication. Parents become very emotional watching their proud son or daughter cross the stage.
As the ceremony ends, cadets toss their hats into the air in celebration, marking the end of their training and the beginning of their service to the nation. The ceremony ends with a performance by the Academy’s choir and a flyover by Air Force jets, creating a sense of awe and admiration for the skill and precision of the pilots.
Following the Graduation Ceremony for a magnificent flyover by the Air Force’s aerial demonstration team, the Thunderbirds! Be prepared to witness airpower up close and through impressive precision maneuvers.
Six years after the U.S. Air Force (1953) became its own branch of service, the Thunderbirds were born as the Air Force’s official air demonstration team. Over the years and with many different aircraft, the Thunderbirds have continued representing the hardworking Airmen who serve our country daily.
The USAF Thunderbirds demonstration is conducted in honor of the Academy’s graduating class. (all personnel must remain in the stadium until the aerial demonstration is completed, announcements will be made in the stadium, and gates will open following the last pass of the Thunderbirds).
Leaving the Ceremony
After the ceremony, the families and their cadet like to stick around and take pictures. Due to the number of people attending the event, the line to exit is quite long. You may be sitting in a car line for over an hour.
If you don’t want to wait in the long line, pack a cooler with a picnic basket and a few chairs, pop open the trunk, and chill out for a while. This a great way to socialize and enjoy a few moments with your family after the ceremony.
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Attending the U.S. Air Force Academy graduation is an unforgettable experience that inspires pride and gratitude for the dedication and sacrifice of the graduates and their families. It’s a testament to the values that make America excellent – service, discipline, and excellence. If you ever have the opportunity to attend a U.S. Air Force graduation, don’t hesitate – it’s an experience you’ll never forget.
Enjoy your travels! Please read my blogs about other exciting places around the world at Traveling Lens Photography.