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974 Air Force Academy graduates celebrated endurance through pandemic college career

A quarter pursuing graduate school, most in one class in Academy history
Posted at 5:25 PM, May 30, 2024

COLORADO SPRINGS — The famous Thunderbird Flyover marks this year's class of 974 Air Force Academy graduates becoming Second Lieutenants of the United States Air Force or Space Force.

"I'm so, so excited. we did it," screamed graduate, Jasmine Jacob.

"I just can't believe it, it's a dream come true, I just can't contain my emotions," said graduate, Clay Peeler.

"You can see I'm crying, so yeah, well earned," said graduate, Rayleigh Finsterbusch.

Graduates threw up their hats as the Thunderbirds flew over. A moment dignifying all the effort, trials and dedication these grads endured the last four years.

"It's been so difficult, going through the Covid class and doing all the academics and training that we do, it's not easy, not everybody graduates from this institution,' said Peeler.

For many, this celebration is extra special because they never got a traditional high school graduation in 2020 during the pandemic.

"Can't describe it, top of the world, it's a great feeling after four years of hard work to finally graduate, especially with my best friends in the whole world," said graduate, Cole Bitting.

Each graduate shook hands with the Vice President of the United States, saluted a classmate and jumped into eachother's arms.

A quarter of these grads are pursuing graduate school, the most in one class in the academy's history.

Jacob will be going to medical school to become an Air Force physician.

"They believed in us to set the standard, to be the standard, and to go on to lead people who trust us to do the same, I just take it as a huge honor, huge commitment and the work's not done."

About 10% are heading to the United States Space Force.

Peeler will be training to become an air force fighter pilot. "I just can't wait to get in the air and start flying."

Thousands of family, friends and community members filled the stands cheering on their graduates.

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