Coast Guard Academy Graduates Are Told They 'Are Going to Save the World'

Coast Guard cadets fold the national ensign during the Annual Sunset Review at the Coast Guard Academy
U.S. Coast Guard cadets fold the national ensign during the Annual Sunset Review at the Coast Guard Academy, May 19, 2024. (Matt Thieme/U.S. Coast Guard)

NEW LONDON — As the minutes ticked down on Cadet Memorial Field on Wednesday to the moment when 225 U.S. Coast Guard Academy cadets would become newly minted officers, the Class of 2024 was reminded of the awesome responsibilities that lie ahead.

Some of the ensigns will cruise aboard icebreakers or drug-interdiction vessels while their classmates will attend flight school or head to far-flung ports to assist in the aftermath of natural disasters. Still others will prepare to respond to environmental accidents.

But academy Provost Amy Donahue defined the cadets' new duties in simpler terms.

"You are going to save the world," she said.

The 143rd commencement featured the pomp and ceremony expected of a military academy graduation, complete with the intonation of oaths of office and a flyover by a pair of Coast Guard helicopters as the new officers launched their white covers into the air.

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, the keynote speaker, noted the class arrived at the New London campus while the COVID-19 pandemic ― and all its related restrictions ― was still in full bloom.

He said the challenges of isolation and hybrid classes had a profound impact on a group of young cadets already entering an unfamiliar environment.

"Perhaps you are the most tested and resilient of the 142 classes that came before you," Mayorkas said. "You have proven yourselves ready for what tomorrow might bring and to shoulder the tremendous responsibilities that you will soon have."

Announcing he was digressing from his prepared remarks, Mayorkas conceded he did not remember "a single thing anyone said" at his college or law school graduations.

The Coast Guard, unlike other military branches, falls under the auspices of the Department of Homeland Security.

The ceremony marked the first for Rear Adm. Michael Johnston as the academy superintendent. Johnston, too, praised the toughness and adaptability shown by his cadets during their first year.

"Despite the rest of the world being on lock-down, you showed up on July 8, 2020," referencing the first day of the school's "swab summer" induction.

Johnston said the cadets were preparing to enter the fleet at a critical time, one that required "intelligent, competent and energized leaders."

"Remember, this is a team sport," he said. "And continue to take care of each other."

The graduating class included five international students and nine residents from southeastern Connecticut. The class boasted the highest percentage — 41.2% ― of female graduates and both the highest percentage and highest number, 13, of Asian female graduates.

The local graduates includes Noah Caskey of Oakdale; Jonathan Glander of East Lyme; Stonington residents Brigid Kunka and Sydney Motherway; Noah McMahon of Taftville; Alyssa Parker of Waterford; Old Saybrook residents Daniel Radka and Cooper Pavlovich; and Derek Raymond of Mystic.

Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Linda Fagan recalled a day 39 years ago as a young cadet sitting and waiting to be commissioned as feelings of "excitement, trepidation and pride" washed over her.

"There's never been a better time to be an officer," Fagan said. "You're embarking on a truly noble calling of service to the American people."

Fagan reminded cadets they'd been well prepared for the challenges facing them and urged them to embody the Coast Guard's core values of honor, respect and devotion to duty, as well as the concepts of compassion and trust.

As Mystic resident Derek Raymond, 22, walked off the graduation field as a newly commissioned officer, he recalled the somewhat diagonal path that led him to the academy four years ago.

"Originally, I wanted to go to the Air Force or Naval Academy and fly fighter jets, but I was too tall," the 6-foot, 6-inch mechanical engineering major said. "Coming here, I knew I wanted to be on a ship, but not for as long as the Navy goes out for, and I liked the Coast Guard's humanitarian mission."

Raymond said the first academy year was marked by social distancing restrictions ― cadets couldn't enter each other's rooms ― that later eased. Once forays outside the academy's gates were allowed, Raymond's familiarity with the region made him a popular resource for his transplanted classmates.

"I got asked a lot for restaurant recommendations," said Raymond whose been assigned to the Coast Guard cutter Forward in Portsmouth, Va. "I'll relax for a few days and then head down and get settled in Virginia. Then, I'm going to Disney World."


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