President Obama Delivers USAFA Commencement Address

Jun 3, 2016

Graduating cadets file into rows of chairs at Falcon Stadium for commencement.
Credit Holly Pretsky / KRCC

President Barack Obama spoke Thursday at the Air Force Academy commencement celebration. For many graduates, it was a day they will never forget.

Air Force Academy Superintendent Lieutenant General Michelle Johnson opened the ceremony.

"Class of 2016," she said, "you have been a remarkable class.  "Your journey began on the 29th of June 2012 against the backdrop of the raging Waldo Canyon Fires, and culminates today in the shadow of Pikes Peak on this glorious spring day."

President Barack Obama, who delivered this year's commencement address at the U.S. Air Force Academy, shakes the hand of a graduate.
Credit Holly Pretsky / KRCC

In his 30-minute speech, President Obama cautioned the graduating cadets against lessening the country's involvement across the globe.

"As we navigate this complex world, America cannot shirk the mantle of leadership, we can't be isolationists. It's not possible in this globalized, interconnected world," Obama said.

Before shaking each of the 812 graduate's hands as they crossed the stage, the president also emphasized the importance of inclusivity in the armed forces.

"We live our values when our military, like America itself, truly welcomes the talents of all people," he said.

Air Force Thunderbirds fly over the stadium after the ceremonial hat toss
Credit Holly Pretsky / KRCC

In anticipation of the traditional hat toss, which closes each year's ceremony, kids gathered around the perimeter of the field to collect the tossed hats and take them home.

Among them were Clara and Rose Prince, ages 10 and 7, who had travelled from Utah to celebrate the graduation of their sister Tirzah.  They wanted to tell their sister they love her after the ceremony. 

When the class of 2016 threw up their hats, the stadium erupted in cheers, and a fleet of Thunderbirds flew overhead; Clara and Rose found their big sister in the crowd.

"So amazing, I'm so happy!" Tirzah Prince exclaimed when asked how she felt upon graduating.  Prince plans to go to medical school next year, but not before getting married first, in less than two weeks.

Following the ceremony, one of the planes in the Thunderbird fleet went down near the Colorado Springs airport. The pilot ejected from the plane before it made impact, and is unhurt.