Nine hundred and thirty-six Class of 2017 cadets received their diplomas during the U.S. Military Academy at West Point Graduation and Commissioning Ceremony May 27, at the Academy's Michie Stadium.
Superintendent Lt. Gen. Robert L. Caslen Jr. congratulated the class, assuring them that their 47-month experience at the Academy prepared them well for distinguished service in the Army.
"Today we pass the torch of leadership to you, the Class of 2017," he said. "You are ready, you are prepared, and you will be great. We could not be more proud of each and every one of you."
Following his introductory remarks, Caslen introduced the 26th Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, who congratulated the class on living up to its motto, "So Others May Dream."
"Nothing better represents America's awesome determination to defend herself than this graduating class," Mattis proclaimed.
Mattis also praised the graduating cadets for their commitment to enduring service to the nation's defense.
"After four years at West Point, you understand what it means to live up to an oath," he said. "You understand the commitment that comes with signing a blank check to the American people with your life."
Mattis advised the cadets to develop a player-coach relationship with their Soldiers -- getting to know them personally and successfully mentoring them as individuals and as a unit. That connection, he said, will sustain the Army's role as the country's premier line of defense.
"You hold the line faithful to duty, confronting our nation's foes with implacable will," Mattis said. "You hold the line loyal to country, defending the constitution and defending our fundamental freedoms, knowing from your challenging years here on the Hudson that loyalty only counts where there are 100 reasons not to be."
Finally, Mattis said he placed his trust in the cadets, even though he may not know each one personally.
"I have very high expectations of you, your country has very high expectations of you and we are confident that you will not let us down," he said. "Because while we do not know you personally, we know your character, West Point character."
Following a standing ovation from the entire arena, the Academy awarded each Class of 2017 cadet with a diploma. And after the singing of the Corps, the Alma Mater and the Army song, the Class of 2017 cadets were prepared to officially become 2nd Lieutenants.
As First Captain Hugh McConnell gave the order, 936 hats soared into the sky, marking the completion of the class's four-year journey.
"It feels really awesome," Class of 2017 graduate Andrew Guay remarked. "There were a few moments during the ceremony where I said to myself, 'I can't believe I'm actually graduating,' and going to bed last night knowing I would wake up and graduate was such an unreal feeling."
As a newly-commissioned 2nd lieutenant, Guay said he's excited to start his journey at Fort Benning, Ga., where he'll be attending Infantry Basic Officer Leader Course before moving on to Ranger School.
2nd Lt. Jennifer Huntley was one of 133 cadets who attended the U.S. Military Academy Preparatory School, and while she's thrilled to finally complete her five year experience, she was sentimental about leaving the Academy.
"It's definitely bittersweet," she said. "All my friends will be scattered everywhere... but I'm really excited and happy for them and I can't wait to see what they do, I know that they're going to be great in the future."
Fellow Class of 2017 graduate Alan Zollar looks forward to being reunited with some old friends after graduation.
"I was a prior service medic, 68 Whiskey. I enlisted back in 2011 right after high school," he explained. "I can't wait to go back and see all those guys."
As one of 21 combat veterans from the Class of 2017, Zollar is prepared to serve alongside both old and new friends.
"I've been looking forward to this for a long, long time," he said. "I applied to come here so I could help as many people as I can and I think that this is the best way to do it -- and now, I can't wait to get out there and accomplish that."