After three rowdy cheers for "those we leave behind," the 905 midshipmen in the Naval Academy class of 1995 tossed their white hats high into the air yesterday to rejoice at the end of one stage of their career and the beginning of another.
While family and friends scrambled across the field at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium to grab the hats as graduation souvenirs, the newly commissioned officers hooted, howled and stood on chairs waving their diplomas in the air.
In a few weeks, most of the 800 men and 105 women will be in flight training, surface warfare school, or on submarines. But yesterday, they began celebrating as early as 7:30 a.m. in the stadium parking lot where midshipmen joined relatives and friends around cars decorated with balloons and streamers. They laughed about their four years on the Yard where nothing in their lives came easy.
"Well, except for falling asleep," said Megan McClung, 23, who was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps. "The important thing is perseverance and perspective. There is light at the end of the tunnel, and it is here today."
Lamar Douber, 23, who plans a career as a Navy pilot, said it was important to do his best at the academy and to never just "scrape by."
"But you should still have fun doing it," he said.
Many of the graduates praised Adm. Charles R. Larson for boosting the brigade's morale and implementing positive changes since he took command in August after the largest cheating scandal in academy history.
"Like the weather, there are no dark clouds hanging over the Naval Academy today," the admiral told the class. "Excellence without arrogance is not just a slogan. It is words to live by."
Admiral Larson, the highest-ranking officer ever to head the academy, was appointed to heal the school's bruised reputation and restore integrity among the 4,000 midshipmen after 134 midshipmen were implicated in cheating on an electrical engineering exam and 24 were expelled.
He has forbidden sophomores from driving cars and wearing civilian clothes and required all midshipmen to spend more time on academy grounds, including ending Sunday liberty before dinner so that they will eat together as a brigade.
He also has instituted a character development program that requires midshipmen to take seminars and classes on ethics and leadership issues. He has cracked down on excessive drinking and warned the brigade he will not tolerate behavior that reflects poorly on the academy or the Navy.
"It has been a different year," said Kristin Scherr, 21, who was commissioned an ensign in the Navy. "He has really got the academy back to basics and back to a military environment."
This is the admiral's second tour of duty at the academy and his last before retirement.
"He could have retired now and made millions in the private sector, but he didn't. He came here," Mr. Douber said. "He is a great leader, and everyone respects him."
Secretary of the Navy John H. Dalton, a 1964 academy graduate, also praised Admiral Larson as he recalled his days as a plebe.
"I got off to a rocky start as a plebe and continued to have some painful and humbling experiences," Mr. Dalton said in his address to the graduates. Outlining leadership qualities, he said a good leader should be optimistic, never compromise absolutes, show initiative and good judgment, speak with authority, strengthen others and lead by example.
"In character and deed, you will always be the ones to set the example," Mr. Dalton said.