ANNAPOLIS -- April S. Cooper kissed her boss, and Alexis Petrosky wrapped him in an impulsive bear hug as the women and 1,008 other midshipmen received their diplomas from the U.S. Naval Academy.
For more than an hour, graduates filed onto the stage on the floor of Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium yesterday, offering handshakes, high fives and sometimes more to President Bush before taking their diplomas.
Some came with pens or other small gifts for the commander-in-chief. Another persuaded Mr. Bush to wave to his family in the stands.
Friends and relatives of the 12th Company, which scored the highest in academic, athletic and professional competition this year, erupted in loud cheers and applause from their spot in the upper deck when their mids' names were called.
And the entire class rose to cheer Lonny M. Stare of Roselle, Ill., the anchorman, the midshipman who graduated at the bottom of his class.
The last graduate to cross the stage, Sam Wagener of Fresno, Calif., was recipient of a special presidential gift. "Wait a minute," Mr. Bush said as the new ensign shook hands. With that, the president took off his watch -- a Timex with "President George Bush" engraved on the face, according to Ensign Wagener -- and handed it to the graduate.
Earlier, the midshipmen Annapolis resident Peggy Vahsen sponsors were munching pastries at a tailgate party, joking about ranking academically near Mr. Stare. "Sure, we're in the top 90 percent of our class," cracked Dan Prather of Louisville, Ky.
Of course, getting there was tough enough yesterday as the usual backups snarled traffic, while underclassmen marched to the stadium under the same leaden skies that had forced cancellation of much of the Blue Angels show Monday and moved the color parade inside yesterday.
But when Mr. Bush, speaking at his first Naval Academy graduation since he was vice president, stepped to the podium, the clouds began to part. Midway into the speech, bright sunshine flooded the field.
Even though the "threat of nuclear war is more distant than at any time previously," and even though "free-market reform is sweeping away the dead hand of state socialism," he said, "we must see clearly the dangers that remain."
He pointed to ethnic violence in the nations of the former Soviet Union, and to the continued reign of Saddam Hussein in Iraq as he used the speech to pitch for a multibillion-dollar aid package for the republics and for continued strategic efforts.
"Never in the long history of man has the world been a benign place," he warned.
The graduates and their families interrupted the short speech only once for applause, before turning to the business at hand: diplomas and commissions.
As each rank of mids rose from their seats to take their turn at the platform, they slapped high fives with those waiting behind them.
Pamela Plyler, one of 94 female members of her class, paused at the top of the ramp to face her family, then held the diploma wide open, high over her head as she made her way back to her seat.
As the ceremony neared its close, crowds pressed close behind the graduates. They were held back only by a thin line of ushers, which broke as the graduates tossed their midshipman caps skyward and youngsters raced to grab souvenirs.
James Peako of Washington, D.C., marveled at the shoulder boards that proclaimed his new rank of ensign.
"I went in the Navy out of high school, was two years enlisted, then went to the [Academy] Preparatory School and now I'm here," he exulted. "I've been working for this day for five years and it's great. It's great."
McClatchy News Service contributed to this article.