Trump to Bring 1000 Cadets Back to West Point for Graduation Speech

No. Just no.

Cadets participate in the Class of 2019 Graduation Parade, May 24, 2019, at West Point. (Matthew Moeller/Army)

Of the bad ideas I’ve heard this week, this one ranks right up there with drinking household cleaning products to cure coronavirus.

NYT (“Trump Speech to Bring 1,000 West Point Cadets Back to Campus“):

For President Trump, who adores the pomp and precision of military ceremonies, this was the year he would finally get one of the special perks of being president — delivering the commencement address at West Point, the only service academy where he has not spoken.

But the graduation was postponed because of the coronavirus, the cadets were sent home and officials at the school were not sure when it would be held or even whether it was a good idea to hold it.

The Naval Academy, for its part, decided it was too risky to recall its nearly 1,000 graduating midshipmen to Annapolis, Md., for a commencement. Those graduates will have a virtual event. But the Air Force Academy, in contrast to the other schools, sent home its underclassmen, locked down its seniors on campus, moved up graduation, mandated social distancing — and went ahead with plans for Vice President Mike Pence to be its speaker.

And so last Friday, the day before Mr. Pence was to speak at the Air Force ceremony in Colorado, Mr. Trump, never one to be upstaged, abruptly announced that he would, in fact, be speaking at West Point.

That was news to everyone, including officials at West Point, according to three people involved with or briefed on the event. The academy had been looking at the option of a delayed presidential commencement in June, but had yet to complete any plans. With Mr. Trump’s pre-emptive statement, they are now summoning 1,000 cadets scattered across the country to return to campus in New York, the state that is the center of the outbreak.


He spoke at Annapolis in 2018, and when he addressed the Air Force Academy graduation last year, the president stayed and shook hands with all 1,000 cadets. But it is West Point that holds special significance to Mr. Trump, aides said. A graduate of the New York Military Academy, he looks upon the West Point graduates serving in his administration with the same admiration he has for anyone with Ivy League credentials.
It had been a longstanding plan that the president would deliver the commencement speech there in late May, White House officials said, adding that after the event was postponed, they were still in talks with the academy about finding a new date.

White House officials said Mr. Trump left it up to the school to decide whether it was safe to hold a graduation ceremony in June, and pointed out that he could always reassess his decision closer to the date if the coronavirus crisis made it impossible for him to attend.

But his appearance at West Point, while not in any way unusual or unexpected, had yet to be announced.

Indeed, after all the West Point cadets were sent home for spring break in March, Lt. Gen. Darryl A. Williams, the West Point superintendent, ordered a working group there to draw up options — much like a battle campaign — for what to do about graduation, summer training and initiation day for incoming cadets.

One option included a delayed presidential commencement speech in mid-June, but nothing had been decided, academy officials said.

That is, nothing had been decided until last Friday, April 17, when, at a news conference, Mr. Trump was asked about Mr. Pence’s coming trip to the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.

Mr. Trump told reporters that he would be speaking at the West Point graduation in the near future, noting that he did not like the look of a socially distanced graduation and that he hoped the “look” of the ceremony would be “nice and tight.” He did not announce a date for the event.


West Point officials say the size and scope of the ceremony will be determined “by safety considerations for cadets and the entire West Point community.” Academy officials say they have not yet decided whether parents or other visitors will be allowed to attend.

General Williams said in a telephone interview that returning seniors would be tested off-campus for the coronavirus. Those who test negative will then be sent to the school, where they will be monitored for 14 days before graduation. While the campus has enough dormitory rooms for the 1,000 seniors, General Williams said that he was still deciding whether seniors would share bedrooms on their return.

“All 1,000 of them will not intermix,” he said. “They’ll be in their rooms. They’ll have their masks on. Groups will be segregated in the mess hall when they eat.”

Graduation events hold special significance, especially at a place like West Point so steeped in tradition and ceremony. Wearing their full dress uniforms for one last time, tossing their hats into the air, and being commissioned as second lieutenants in the United States Army is a culmination of four years of hard work. And, certainly, being addressed by the Commander-in-Chief adds to the grandeur of the occasion, regardless of one’s feelings about any particular officeholder.

But this is a once-in-a-century crisis. Robbing the cadets of their special moment is terrible but hardly the biggest sacrifice they’ll be called on to make in the service of the country. And we’re doing it for pretty much every high school and college senior in the country.

The cadets, like all Defense Department employees, are prohibited from official travel until June 30. The report says they’ll need waivers, although one presumes an order from the President to report to work should suffice.

The report also quotes a spokesman saying the cadets would have needed to return to campus “at some point” to take final exams, pick up their belongings, and out-process. But every other college in the country is figuring out how to administer exams remotely. A team of people already there can box up their crap and ship it to them. And out-processing can be waived. Collect all of the Academy’s property, ask cadets to mail back library books when they can, and call it good.

The President loves pomp and ceremony and this could well be his last chance to address a West Point class. But, again, that’s hardly the biggest sacrifice that would be made during this crisis.

FILED UNDER: Military Affairs, , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Kathy says:

    As I understand it, no military officer is required to obey an illegal order. Gathering people so they cna risk their lives to stroke a small man’s vanity cannot possibly be legal. It certainly isn’t necessary.

  2. CSK says:

    But this would combine the two things that Trump loves most: a rally where he’s the center of attention and military pomp and circumstance. It would be soooo unfair to ask him to give up those.

    Wouldn’t it?

  3. James Joyner says:

    @Kathy: IANAL but it’s almost certainly a legal order.

  4. Jen says:

    This is a spectacularly bad idea. That the president would risk the health and safety of these cadets simply so that he can be at the center of attention in front of a crowd that is ostensibly at his command is appalling.

    Every time I think he can’t possibly demonstrate that he’s a worse person than I imagined, he does.

  5. OzarkHillbilly says:

    And, certainly, being addressed by the Commander-in-Chief adds to the grandeur of the occasion, regardless of one’s feelings about any particular officeholder.

    I’m sorry, I just… I just can’t wrap my head around the concept of trump adding grandeur to anything. Stealing grandeur? Absolutely, just look at what he’s done for the White House.

    @James Joyner: Damn, pretty sure a lot of Cadets were hoping that was their ticket out of this farce.

  6. CSK says:

    I think that the idea of forcing these cadets to attend gives Trump a great deal of added pleasure. Remember when he forced his cabinet members to say what a privilege it was to work for him? Forcing people to do things they don’t want to do enhances his enjoyment.

  7. de stijl says:


    Had a boss like that briefly.

    It was subtle, not immediately evident, but he was a dominator.

    He was gracious, but always demanded off menu prep or combinations when dining out. Decent tipper, but still a massive tool to ettiquite norms.

    I am in charge. You take my orders.

    Major red flag. I bailed as fast as I could.

  8. DrDaveT says:

    @de stijl:

    He was gracious, but always demanded off menu prep or combinations when dining out.

    A Welsh historian I once met said that his definition of an American is “Someone who calls you by your first name and orders something not on the menu.”

  9. de stijl says:


    Not all Americans are dominators. Nor are all American tourists. Yet that impression dominates where we travel. It’s sad.

    This was an American in America being a dick to Americans because he could. Subtly, graciously being a dick. Left a proper tip.

    Most Americans don’t behave that way thankfully.

  10. wr says:

    Look at the bright side — he’s going to kill a lot fewer troops with this stunt than when his polls drop again and he invades Iran/Venezuela/Canada.

  11. This says so much about Trump, and none of it is good. He is willing to endanger the health of the graduates and those attending and working the ceremony just because it is something he wants. He wants the look of it. He wants the experience for himself.

    All for an event that is quite clearly optional in the grand scheme of things. It really is an appalling example of self-absorption.

    The child was promised a toy and, by golly, he is going to throw a fit to get it.

  12. de stijl says:

    There is a really weird dynamic when you are a highly billed consultant.

    In one view you are a pleb. A contract pleb. Do this and we will pay you (not really how contracts work, but go with it for now).

    At another level they understand that you earn more than anyone they manage do annually so they give you weird deference and ask for input as if you were their peer or superior.

    It is very odd. You are both chattel and peer.

    To some extent it is that levels only intermingle in the most stilted Holiday Party way ever in corporate America.

    Here are two drink coupons! Go team! Ineffectual stilted bonding.

    I developed a theory that managers wanted to befriend and bond with their subordinates, but cannot, so I (or another in that role) was the substitute recipient. It happened often.

    Whereas, I wanted to bond with the working folk. Class solidarity. So, looking back, I definitely pushed that boundary too.

    Human interaction is hard as is. And then add hierarchy and class and perceived status and money.

    Still, some of my best friends are people I met on the job.

    Managers are a dime a dozen, gifted people are incalcuably precious.

    No offense if you are a manager.

  13. KM says:

    Their commanding officer is going to get them killed with his stupidity for no reason other then his ego.

    This is valuable intel these future leaders need to understand *NOW* – the GOP has allowed this manchild to run amok and if he’s re-elected, their chances of losing their lives goes up significantly. Trump may be graduation for Mad King Donald but he’s being aided and abetted by a political party that’s firmly stating out loud American lives are worth less then the economy is. A party that punished a captain willing to stand up for his men while letting toadies endanger them to listen to a blowhard tell them injecting disinfect is worth a look. The military tends to vote Republican – do so at your own peril this year. This man, looking increasingly unhinged, will be in charge of your fate for 4 years… or significantly less if he decides to pick a fight with Iran.

    He doesn’t care about you in peacetime and wants to make an unnecessary risk to placate his ego. You gonna trust this man to not be a disaster should war break out? You trust him to not screw over leaders who try to uphold their oaths and defend this nation and it’s protectors? You trust him to not put you in an impossible situation you didn’t have to be in or force you to give up your dignity and honor to lick his feet? Choose wisely when voting, graduates – he’s showing you exactly what he thinks you’re worth.

  14. JohnMcC says:

    Thank you for the information on the Academies’ graduation plans; looking into that corner of life hadn’t occurred to me. The old Dad (RIP) ‘graduated’ from the Citadel with the class of ’43. They never graduated. Finished finals, assembled in the mess hall and got their orders and they were on the trains to staff the Army. At least, that’s a son’s impression from the old guy’s recounting it.

    So cancelling the graduation ceremonies at the Academies is putting this virus business in the same category as World War Two.

    And our President is more and more captive to magical thinking.

    Oh. My. God.

  15. Stormy Dragon says:

    And, certainly, being addressed by the Commander-in-Chief adds to the grandeur of the occasion, regardless of one’s feelings about any particular officeholder.

    If nothing else, Dr. Joyner is a company man.

  16. Barry says:

    @KM: ” The military tends to vote Republican – do so at your own peril this year. This man, looking increasingly unhinged, will be in charge of your fate for 4 years… or significantly less if he decides to pick a fight with Iran.”

    Hopefully, we might be seeing a change, especially in the officer corps.

  17. James Joyner says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    If nothing else, Dr. Joyner is a company man.

    The officer corps, and this certainly filters down to cadets, have gotten more partisan and political in recent years. And I’m sure there are a lot of cadets who roll their eyes at Trump. But they’ve spent four years being indoctrinated into tradition. They take an oath to the Constitution and take it earnestly.

  18. gVOR08 says:

    @Barry: The best data I find quickly goes back to December and showed Trump’s approval by the military slipped, in fact underwater, and little different from the general public.

    I mentioned on Dr. T’s “Haters” thread that we seem to have about twenty things going on that can be THE thing that swung a close election to Biden. This is one.

    Oops, ETA

  19. Kathy says:

    @James Joyner:

    I’m not familiar with the Uniform Code of Military Justice, nor am I a lawyer. But if placing the lives of military personnel at risk for a frivolous purpose isn’t illegal, it certainly should be.

  20. Stormy Dragon says:

    @James Joyner:

    Oaths to the constitution can be taken earnestly without pretending that there’s some great honor in having Trump blurt at you.

  21. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @James Joyner:

    They take an oath to the Constitution and take it earnestly.

    I’m sorry James but I have to ask: Than why did so many vote for trump?

  22. Stormy Dragon says:

    To accommodate Trump’s sudden decision to speak at West Point, cadets will be called back, tested off campus, then isolated for 14 days in rooms with masks. They’ll eat in segregated groups. No decision on whether family members may attend.— Trip Gabriel (@tripgabriel) April 25, 2020

    The most Schadenfreude part of this that when Trump announces it, there’s a 50/50 chance he’ll make some off-script remark indicating that he thinks “segregated groups” means racially-segregated rather than medically-segregated.

  23. de stijl says:


    Really simple demographics predict voting behavior well. No statistician required for a layperson take.

    I used to work alongside stats folks. I fed them raw data.

    There was pressure to produce so they mostly worked on new customer acquisition or profit maximization. Safe stuff.


    I wanted weird insights into current customers.

    We used to work with what was then called Acxiom which I believe got bought out and rolled into LiveRamp. Think Experian only with more data on private citizens than you think is not resolvable to one person but actually is.

    They join on name, Ssn, address, telephone, bank routing numbers, account numbers, drivers licence, tax ids, affinity cards. It is friggin crazy.

    One day I was at their mothership in SF and they allowed me to look at me. Not me per se but individual tagged as high probability lives at that street address. All of the truly identifying data was sequestered and masked, but that was God damned me.

    Officially, it was visit, but it was implicitly a job interview.

    We were a partner. Mortgage companies collect a disturbingly large amount of data on people and properties. Much of it verified.

    They wanted all of our data; daily push to them.

    At that time, we were the largest retail mortgage lender in America, and the third largest wholesale lender.

    We sold most of the servicing rights, but still held a massive amount back.

    Looking at “me” was 85 – 90 percent dead on true and correct. There was some stuff associated with that address that was a previous tenant, and there was cash purchase stuff that was missed, but that was me.

    They had all my demographic stuff which I could not see, plus they had me scored on various psychographic models many of which were scarily true in ways I immediately wanted to improve aspects of myself.

    Monitored physically and electonically.

    There were tabs I could not click. I cannot tell you the acronyms on those tabs by law and or NDA.

    That Homeland Security and every acronym in the book had access and has access. That would be an assumption. I cannot prove or disprove any of that.

    This was publically available information plus purchase behavior sold by retailers to Acxiom directly or via a broker. Not protected by any law.

    It was spooky beyond words.

    All publically available data about you is collected and stored. What you buy with a credit or debit card is collected and stored. Phone calls, texts, e-mails , internet bejavior: all of that data belongs to someone else.

    I am an ACLU donor. Consider contributing to that cause. Please consider carefully.