Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told US Military Academy cadets Saturday they were graduating during "exceptionally tough circumstances," but that West Point prepared them to face the extraordinary threats ahead and the ones already here. Austin spoke to about 1,000 cadets becoming Army second lieutenants in a ceremony held with pandemic precautions at West Point's football stadium, the AP reports. Austin, a 1975 graduate of West Point, recalled his own years there as he told graduates their training will keep them on course. "You're watching as America's longest war winds down. And you're seeing technology change the character of war itself. And even as big and rising powers jostle and compete, you're seeing new threats from pandemics to terrorism to cyber weapons. And you're seeing those threats race across borders like a gale," said Austin, the nation's first Black defense secretary.
All guests at the ceremony this year were required to provide either a negative COVID-19 test result or proof of vaccination. Graduation capped an unusual year at West Point in which COVID-19 forced changes in how the military trained and educated more than 4,000 cadets. West Point also endured fallout from a cheating scandal in which dozens of freshmen were accused of cheating on an online calculus exam in May 2020. As the highest-ranking cadet, Cadet Reilly McGinnis, first captain of Corps of Cadets, had to explain to her classmates the reasons behind pandemic-related rules, such as why seniors' weekend passes to leave West Point were temporarily restricted. "There were definitely some negatives in that," she said this week. "But also it opened up the opportunity for us to really come closer as a Corps and spend a lot of time together building cohesive teams we always talk about."
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