Donald Trump announced last week he would deliver a commencement speech to the graduating class at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. The move will reportedly force 1,000 cadets to return the campus that closed down last month over COVID-19 concerns.
"I'm doing [the commencement speech] at West Point, which I look forward to. I did it last year at Air Force. I did it in Annapolis. I did it at the Coast Guard Academy and I'm doing it at West Point," Trump said during a press conference last Friday. "And I assume ... they'll have [social] distancing. They'll have some big distance, so it'll look very different than it ever looked."
As pointed out by The New York Times, the president announced his decision as Vice President Mike Pence prepared to speak at the Air Force Academy graduation ceremony in Colorado last week. Sources involved in the matter told the Times that Trump's impromptu announcement came as a surprise, as organizers had yet to finalize the ceremony plans. A White House official told the publication Trump had spoke with the DOD and that his remarks "were not a surprise to the academy."
Shortly after cadets were sent home in March, superintendent Lt. Gen. Darryl A. Williams instructed a group to come up with different options on how the school would conduct graduation, summer training, and initiation day amid the global health crisis. There were reportedly talks about rescheduling the West Point graduation from late May to mid-June; but, again, the plans had not been completed at the time Trump confirmed his June 13 speech.
"He’s the commander in chief, that’s his call," Sue Fulton, a West Point graduate and former chairwoman of the academy’s Board of Visitors, told the Times. "Cadets are certainly excited about the opportunity to have something like the classic graduation, standing together, flinging their hats in the air. But everyone is leery about bringing 1,000 cadets into the New York metropolitan area for a ceremony ... It’s definitely a risk."
West Point officials said they have not decided whether visitors, including family members, will be allowed to attend the ceremony. General Williams said seniors will be tested for COVID-19 prior to setting foot on campus; if they test negative, they will be sent to the academy and monitored for 14 days prior to graduation.
"All 1,000 of them will not intermix," superintendent added. "They’ll be in their rooms. They’ll have their masks on. Groups will be segregated in the mess hall when they eat."
Lt. Col. Christopher Ophardt, a spokesperson for West Point, told the Times reports that a handful of cadets and about 30 staff and faculty members have tested positive for coronavirus since leaving campus last month.