Graduating cadets toss their covers skyward during the United States Military Academy 2009 Graduation and Commissioning Ceremony at Michie Stadium in West Point, NY on Saturday, May 23, 2009. 970 cadets received their diplomas and were commissioned as 2nd. Lieutenants in the U.S. Army. Times Herald-Record/CHET GORDON
This past Saturday was my third West Point graduation. With a such a hectic week behind me - in covering the foiled Newburgh bombing plot, and the fun hot-air balloon flight the previous Friday - I was finally looking forward to the annual "big one." There's something particularly special about working at West Point. I know I use buzz words like "special" a lot, but covering an event like the United States Military Academy's graduation is truly what it's all about, since I've been here at the paper. West Point is our big leagues; our Yankee Stadium, Madison Square Garden, and Meadowlands Arena, if you will - all wrapped up into one campus environment. Hey, wait a minute - those are all familiar venues in my career as well. Throw in the military traditions, pomp & circumstance, and pageantry and you just can't miss as a photographer. There is a lot of mental preparation that goes into my graduation day coverage at West Point. Details: I remember standing in a Lowe's hardware mega-store the night before comparing the differences between a set of black or white heavy duty plastic ties I'd need to help secure my remote cameras. (I went with a bag of the black 24" version this time.) Media personnel were required to wear "slacks & a collared shirt" so I'd even considered shopping for an inexpensive pair of khakis, but found a serviceable pair at home that I could get dirty during the day. Hardware: Sometime the night before I lay out all the gear I'll bring with me before packing up. It's just an old military thing with me. Attaching and re-attaching the camera plates for the magic-arms, cleaning the lenses, and of course checking all the Pocket-Wizard cords and firing the remote cameras in various combinations. This year all the pre-shoot checks went on until about 1AM. Then a 4:30AM wake-up call follows, as this certainly isn't a day I can afford to be rushed out of the house and down to the stadium. Working media are required to arrive in the press parking lot on post by 7AM. By the time I pick up my credentials and load my trusty cart full of gear onto a press van, I'm on the field by 7:20AM or so, inspecting where I'd like to install my low-angle remote camera in the benches where the graduating cadets will sit. Access: This is the second year the West Point Public Affairs folks have allowed me this opportunity to install a remote camera for a different view of the traditional "hat toss" (top photo), so I'm very grateful. By 8AM I begin installing a second remote in the north end zone stands with a 70mm - 200mm zoom lens pointing back down at the graduating cadets seating area, which I thought might make a nice third view of the "hat toss" as a vertical image. Ironically, none of the images from that camera resulted in anything I particularly liked.
(Last year it rained heavily just 20 minutes before the jubilation moment.) We had clear skies all morning this time, although there was a moving cloud cover again and a few faint raindrops about halfway into the ceremony. I kept my fingers secretly crossed during the ceremony, as I hadn't covered the remote cameras in plastic bags. We had really good access on the field, which provided a few new views of the ceremony for the media types. It's also pretty sweet to have literally unlimited access to the Foley Athletic Center (the indoor practice facility for the football team) where the cadets spend their final few moments before formally marching to nearby Michie Stadium. Plenty of good feature images to be made there, as some cadets are actually napping with their white cotton gloves over their faces, etc. Imagery that the general public doesn't ordinarily get to see. Cadet "march-on" time is 9:40AM. This is also where the "game clock" officially starts running for me.
Multimedia: Here's a simple slideshow of the day - everything from "soup to nuts" in covering the graduates' day at the nation's premiere military institution:*(Click the arrow at the bottom left of the player to start the slideshow, or click the image / or the arrows at lower right to scroll through the show manually. Enable full screen viewing by clicking the 4-way arrow icon above the credits button at lower right of the player. There is no audio with this brief slideshow.)
I've thought quietly to myself the past few days how some of these new 2nd. Lieutenants will go on to storied and decorated Army careers - some heading to areas of conflict in the world today, with some even seeing combat. As we all are well aware, some may not come back...
"It does this old Marine proud to work the West Point Commencement and Commissioning ceremony again..." -cg.