WASHINGTON — Vice President Mike Pence attended the 2020 commencement ceremony at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs on Saturday, making the trip outside of Washington amid the coronavirus pandemic to celebrate the very first graduating officers that will serve in the Space Force.
“I know we gather at a time of great challenge," Pence said. "While we don’t quite look like the usual graduation at the Air Force Academy, let me tell you this is an awesome sight and I wouldn’t be anywhere else.”
Of the nearly 1,000 cadets graduating Saturday, Pence said that 86 of them would make up the first company of officers in the new Space Force.
The ceremony, typically held in the Falcon Stadium, was moved to the more spacious terrazzo at the center of the campus to allow for cadets to remain 8 feet apart at all times. Family and friends were not allowed at this year’s ceremony and cadets did not march up to the stage to personally receive their diplomas, as is custom.
“The American people are doing their duty. Now comes your turn to do yours. To defend the people of this nation, and this we know you will do. For long after the coronavirus is defeated, your mission will go on," Pence continued.
Pence, who heads the White House’s coronavirus task force, originally planned to address the graduating class by video, but his office announced Tuesday that he would attend in person.
Pence’s last-minute decision to make the trip to Colorado goes against his own task force’s recommendation to stay at home during the pandemic and limit any nonessential trips.
Some of the vice president's staff sat next to each other on the flight from Washington to Colorado. Pence was greeted on the tarmac by Colorado’s Democratic Gov. Jared Polis, who was wearing a face mask with the state flag's pattern. Pence did not wear a mask.
Other lawmakers including Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., and Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., addressed the class via video messages. Defense Secretary Mark Esper and other Pentagon officials also offered their congratulations through video messages.
Air Force underclassmen were sent home earlier in the school year and have been completing their classes online. The nearly 1,000 graduating members of the senior class stayed on campus for commencement, which was moved up six weeks.