980 midshipmen graduate in Annapolis

Commencement held for first class to start after 9/11 attacks

men and women note many changes during their four years

May 28, 2006|By BRADLEY OLSON | BRADLEY OLSON,SUN REPORTER

The first crop of midshipmen to attend the Naval Academy in the wave of patriotism after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks graduated Friday, throwing their hats in the air and swearing an oath to the United States.

Although the 161-year-old institution is well-known for its traditions and its propensity to stick to them, recent graduates said they went through many changes in four years as Mids, notably a far-reaching response to a rape scandal at the Air Force Academy and sweeping changes to prepare them for the war on terror.

"The academy is almost constantly looking into itself and is willing to change and adjust," said Matt Bowman, 22, of Randallstown. "Sometimes, what frustrates Mids are the politics that go into those changes. ... All the government does is brought to bear here, and it involves all that we do."

Of the 1,214 who came to Annapolis as plebes in 2002, 980 graduated: 833 men and 147 women.

Vice President Dick Cheney delivered the commencement address.

On Friday, 762 became Navy ensigns and 203 were commissioned as second lieutenants in the Marine Corps. Four Mids transferred into the Army and Air Force.

Twenty-two percent were minorities, including 81 Hispanic graduates, 58 African-Americans, 56 Asian-Americans and 25 Native Americans.

They will join a cadre of almost 72,000 alumni who have graduated from the academy since 1845, including about 2,500 women beginning in 1980.

Jay Michael Dixon, a midshipman who fell to his death from the academy dormitory in 2005, was listed as an honorary graduate Friday.

Notably absent was standout quarterback Lamar Owens and another senior football player, Kenny Ray Morrison, who face courts-martial in July on charges of sexual misconduct in separate incidents.

Bowman said the Annapolis military college became overly sensitive after the Air Force Academy scandal in 2003, when dozens of women said they had been raped and the assaults ignored by that school's leadership.

When he arrived, too many upperclass Mids were doing "spot corrections" - punishing plebes for shoes that weren't shined enough - punishments that were "without reason."

For example, he once forgot to greet an upperclassman when he was a plebe and the upperclassman made him hand-write the name 2003 times.

Having no time to do it, he got together with other plebes and they helped write the name together. While it helped them learn teamwork, it was also pointless, he said.

But after the scandal at the Air Force Academy, in Colorado Springs, Colo., the academy's response was "too heavy-handed," he said. Lately, the pendulum has swung back.

"We tried to spare too many feelings when it comes to training," said Bowman, who entered the Marine Corps. "It's starting to be the tough academy that I applied to and had intended to come to," he said.

Zach Goldstein, 23, agreed.

"We all felt the aftershocks of what went on at Air Force," said Goldstein, a graduate of Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda. "And everyone has to be very conscientious of all our [sexual assault] policies now."

Sheivon Davis, a Baltimore native and graduate of Polytechnic Institute, said she never had any problem as a woman during her years at the academy. Life has been better since 2003, she said, mostly during the tenure of Vice Adm. Rodney P. Rempt.

She said she appreciated that liberty - or leave privileges - for midshipmen had been tied to performance, and that Rempt and "the administration," as Mids say, had set performance goals for the entire brigade of midshipmen, which they achieved.

"Morale increased," she said. "And he's beautified the place a lot," adding flowers and sprucing up certain buildings.

Many said they will miss their friends and the relationships they built over four years, but not the academy itself. They were on the fence about how long they would stay in the military.

Davis said she is sure to do "five and dive," a reference to the years midshipmen are obligated to serve after they finish.

Goldstein, however, said he has at least 10 years to go because he will be an aviator.

"If I'm having a good time, I'll stay in," he said. "I'm excited to join the fleet."

bradley.olson@baltsun.com

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