Trump to deliver West Point commencement address, forcing 1,000 cadets back to campus amid pandemic

Donald Trump has claimed he will speak at the US Military Academy’s 2020 commencement ceremony, which could force more than 1,000 cadets to return to campus, which has been closed during the coronavirus pandemic.

West Point confirmed the graduating class will return for the ceremony, which is scheduled for 13 June. The event will “look different from recent graduation ceremonies due to current force health protection requirements” during the public health emergency, the academy said in a statement.

The president announced he will deliver a commencement address during a White House briefing last week, which reportedly came as a surprise to officials who had yet to confirm his appearance.

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He said: “I’m doing it at West Point, which I look forward to. I did it last year at Air Force. I did it in Annapolis. I did it at the Coast Guard Academy and I’m doing it at West Point.”

The president said he “assumes” the academy in New York will have “some big distance” in place for the hundreds of cadets in attendance, though he said that he doesn’t like “the look” of a socially distanced crowd.

His announcement arrived as Vice President Mike Pence was scheduled to appear in person at the US Air Force Academy’s commencement in Colorado, despite schools, colleges and universities across the country abandoning traditional springtime ceremonies to prevent the spread of the virus as health officials urge states to ban group gatherings.

West Point’s commencement could force hundreds of cadets now scattered across the US back to campus after it was closed in March.

Sue Felton, a West Point graduate and former chair of the academy’s Board of Visitors, told The New York Times that Mr Trump is “the commander in chief, that’s his call”.

“Cadets are certainly excited about the opportunity to have something like the classic graduation, standing together, flinging their hats in the air,” she said. “But everyone is leery about bringing 1,000 cadets into the New York metropolitan area for a ceremony … It’s definitely a risk.”

Academy officials have not decided whether to allow visitors, including cadets’ families, will be allowed to attend.

Returning cadets will be tested for Covid-19 before they’re allowed on campus; if they test negative, they will be monitored for up to two weeks before graduation.

Cadets will “not intermix” and will have to wear masks, be confined to their rooms, and eat in segregated mess halls, according to The Times.

West Point’s Lt Col Christopher Ophardt told The Times that at least 30 faculty and staff members have tested positive for the virus.