In a normal year, graduation from the U.S. Naval Academy consists of a week-long celebration known as Commissioning Week, which culminates in a formal commencement and commissioning ceremony held at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Md.
But for 2020 Naval Academy graduates Megan Lysford and her fiance, Brennen Bowen, graduation was an afternoon spent at her parents' home north of Detroit Lakes, watching a virtual ceremony while surrounded by a small group of close friends and family.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, all Commissioning Week events were canceled, or postponed until such time as national social-distancing protocols will permit large-scale events to take place once again. Rather than being sworn in with 1,000 classmates at Annapolis May 22, Lysford and Bowen were administered the oath of office by her father, Scott Lysford, a retired Air Force fighter pilot.
The Friday, May 22, ceremony put a period on the end of an unprecedented chapter in Naval Academy history. The Naval Academy's 4,000 midshipmen began their spring break on March 6; they were ordered not to return when it ended. The break was extended two weeks, until the spread of the virus could be determined and distance learning protocols were established.
"At the end of spring break, we came back here," said Lysford, a 2016 graduate from Detroit Lakes High School. Since March 17, she and her fiance have been completing their final two months of classes and training online.
Though the virtual classroom environment was different, it wasn't radically so; she said their daily schedule was essentially unchanged.
"We still had to wake up early," she said, adding that they were held accountable for maintaining their usual routine, including workouts. "They had the program very well set up for us, so it wasn't too different. But it wasn't the ideal way to start our naval career, certainly."
The biggest difference, Bowen added, was that it was "definitely much more relaxed here," due to the absence of direct supervision by their instructors and superior officers.
Now that they have been commissioned as officers in the U.S. Navy (Lysford) and Marine Corps (Bowen), the couple's next big date on the calendar is their wedding.
"We're getting married in June," Lysford said, adding that they have to report back to their respective posts on June 9.
"I will be attending flight school in Pensacola, Fla.," she said.
"I'm going to grad school at Purdue (University)," said Bowen, adding that he plans to earn a master's degree in chemical engineering. But first, the Tulsa, Okla., native will be starting basic Marine Corps officer training at Quantico, Va., this summer.