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West Point to bring back 1,000 cadets for graduation, Trump commencement address

The United States Military Academy at West Point will bring back about 1,000 cadets to its New York campus for the class of 2020's graduation ceremony on June 13. President Trump is scheduled to deliver this year's commencement address. 

Cadets have been away from the campus since March 6, when spring break began, according to to West Point's director of public affairs and communications Christopher Ophardt. 

 Secretary of the Army Ryan D. McCarthy said in a statement Saturday night that he made the decision to hold the graduation "after careful consideration of the steps the Army can take to mitigate risk." McCarthy said that West Point will communicate the plan for graduation "over the next couple of days."

The academy is located about an hour from New York City, the epicenter of the United State's coronavirus outbreak. As the virus took hold in New York state, the school decided to delay the cadets' return, and they have been attending classes virtually ever since.

During a White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing last week, Mr. Trump announced he would be delivering the academy's commencement address this year.

"I think, making the commencement speech — I'm doing it at West Point, which I look forward to. I did it last year at Air Force, I did it at Annapolis, I did it at the Coast Guard Academy, and I'm doing it at West Point," Mr. Trump said. "And I assume they're — they've got it, and I understand they'll have distancing. They'll have some big distance, and so it'll be very different than it ever looked."

"Do I like the look? No, I don't. And eventually, next year, they'll have a commencement which will be like it's been, like when people like this — our great Admiral, who has done such a great job. When he graduated from where he graduated — me too — we were nice and tight. And that's going to happen again," he said. 

Five days later, on April 22, West Point issued a press release announcing that the president would serve as its commencement speaker. It will be Mr. Trump's first time delivering the school's address, after Vice President Mike Pence did last year. 

"We are honored to host the Commander-in-Chief as we celebrate the many accomplishments of our graduating class," said Lieutenant General Darryl A. Williams, 60th Superintendent of the USMA, in West Point's press release.

The academy said "the size and scope of the graduation ceremony" would be dependent on safety considerations. "The Academy leadership is conducting a thorough analysis and plan for the safe return of the Corps of Cadets," it said. 

According to Ophardt, the school anticipates about 1,000 cadets to return to campus for the ceremony, with a "movement window starting at the end of May back to West Point." West Point admitted 1,302 students to its 2020 class. 

"West Point has been planning for the safe return of the Corp of cadets since early March," he said. "Cadets will return in a Temporary duty status but all the details are still being worked out." The army has provided the academy with testing equipment so that every cadet who returns will be tested within a few hours. 

"Cadets will be subjected to a detailed COVID screening, testing, quarantine, and integration plan where they will execute out-processing, commissioning, and pre-officer basic tasks," according to Ophardt. "Cadets will arrive in small groups and if they test negative moved back to the dorms where current CDC and DoD guidance will be followed."

Whether or not families can attend the ceremony is undecided. "The graduation ceremony will look different from recent graduation ceremonies because of current social health force protection measures," Ophardt said. "We are considering courses of action that limit family participation."

He said "at a minimum" the school will provide a broadcast of the ceremony. "The graduation ceremony will look different from recent graduation ceremonies because of current social health force protection measures."

No decisions have been made about when other cadets will be allowed to return to campus, or when it will welcome its incoming class.

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