President Donald Trump was scheduled to give a speech at the West Point Military Academy in June, before the campus was closed and cadets were sent into self-quarantine. While his speech was initially postponed, he announced last Friday that the event was back on, despite the coronavirus pandemic. According to a report by The New York Times, he did so without conferring with West Point first, and it is not clear whether it will be safe for those cadets to return for the big event.
Trump was meant to give the commencement address at West Point this spring — an event he was reportedly looking forward to. The graduation ceremony has already been postponed, and cadets have been sent home to self-isolate or quarantine during the coronavirus pandemic. However, the Air Force Academy handled things differently, rushing to hold an in-person graduation ceremony with social distancing in place, and with Vice President Mike Pence giving his speech as planned. The day before that ceremony, Trump reportedly announced without warning that his West Point speech was back on as well.
The announcement came during a press conference on Friday, April 17, when a reporter asked Trump about Pence's upcoming speech at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. he said that he would be speaking at West Point as well, noting that he did not like "the look" of socially-distanced graduation ceremonies — with cadets spaced six feet apart for their own health and safety. He said that he hoped the crowd at West Point would be "nice and tight."
When the president's unprompted announcement came, officials at West Point were reportedly confused. They had not decided what exactly to do about their graduation yet, pondering a virtual event like the one held by the Naval Academy, perhaps. With the president's announcement, the school is now rushing to call 1,000 cadets back to campus in New York City — the epicenter of the pandemic in North America.
Cadets are coming from all over the country for the event, and many are not sure how to feel about this sudden change of plans, nor how it was made. West Point graduate and former chairwoman of the school's Board of Visitors, Sue Fulton, told the Times that the academy would listen to him without question.
"He's the commander in chief, that's his call," she said. "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."
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