Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The US Coast Guard Academy, my awesome niece and President Obama...and family May 20 2015

UPDATE as of Feb 2018-Sara married her best friend and AWESOME husband, Kyle, in Aug 2018 and they are now posted in New Orleans for the next 2 years.  We visited them over Mardi Gras.  She spent 2 years as an Ensign and  boarding officer on the USS Legare out of Norfolk after school and moved to New Orleans next. We continue to be so proud of both of them.

When we left the Hudson Valley, we were headed toward New London for our niece's graduation but first we wanted to stop and visit friends in Darien and Westport, CT. Well, anyone who knows these towns will not be surprised that I was afraid we would be unable to park on the street in either of them and knew both friends' driveways were not big enough so...I was looking at parking for the night at a rest stop on the CT turnpike and driving the car for visits.  Then, amazingly, it turned out that Darien allows overnight street parking and we happily pulled up to Sam and Joanna's house, parked and spent the afternoon, evening and breakfast the next day enjoying their hospitality.  We went for walks, had delicious meals and chatted about everything from our travels, Joanna's phenomenal photography and Joanna and my shared childhoods and desires to move home to St Croix.  The next day, Don and I drove over to Westport for lunch with my God-sister.  I have known Dottie since I was born since our parents were friends and we are both from St Croix.  Her father was my parents' best man and her parents, my Godparents.  In 1960, I was the flower girl in (Princess) Dottie and (her Price Charming) Dick's wedding.  We've remained in touch through the years and there are few people I love visiting as much as them.  Once again, a delicious lunch (and Dottie always does something from the islands and she and I get to yakking in Crucian) and a wonderful afternoon ending when we had to head back to Darien to pick up the MoHo and get on the road to New London.

We arrived at our campground with no problem and called Sara, my brother Chris's daughter, to let her know we were there.  The next day we met Sara, Chris and Donna in Old Mystic for lunch.  It was a cool and rainy day and the tavern we went to was warm and cozy. We had a great time.  Then later, we headed over to the USCGA (US Coast Guard Academy) for the sports awards ceremony. Sara was a diver on the Swimming and Diving team for her 4 years there and last year became the first woman Coast Guard Diver to qualify for the NCAA Championships.  Yes, we are proud of her. She is a delight and visited us with several of her equally great friends through her years in New London so it was especially touching to watch these women take their next step in life. 

By that night, 2 of Donna's sisters and their husbands, one of Sara's cousins and her son and Don and I were all there so we all went out for BBQ at the fantastic Chester's BBQ in Groton.  Then it was back to the campground for us and off to the hotels where Sara's brother, Christopher, a Marine 2nd lieutenant and Donna's dad and stepmom would be arriving.  Plans also had to be made for the following day because with President Obama as commencement speaker, security would be tight and no-one was parking on campus.  What did that mean?  Satellite parking areas and buses and lots and lots of people.  Our situation was also one of what would we do with Phoenix who would not be able to stay for 10 hours alone in the RV.  

After Lunch on Graduation Eve

Me with my special girl whose visits always brightened our weekends

Toasting Sara at Chester's

8:30 the next morning: We decided to park in the closest area, in the shade, with a big bowl of water and some snacks with a large waterproof pad on the floor with shades on all the windows which we left almost all the way open for Phoenix.  We took her for a walk and then settled her in the car where she promptly-as always- lay down and went to sleep. Then we hopped onto the bus and rode to the Academy. It was now 9am.  The ceremony was starting at 11.  We sailed through the security check.  Everyone knew it would be taking place so all had their requisite ID's and all other "stuff" had been left home. For their part the NSA and Academy security recognized that everyone was there for graduation and did not unduly harass anyone.  My brother Chris had found seats for us high in the stands where we would not be in the sun projected for the day and out of the wind that comes off the water.  We were also joined by my sister, Karen, en route to home in FL after a trip to Europe with friends.  The time passed quickly as we all awaited the arrival of the grads.  When the Cadets graduate they receive their diplomas as well as their orders and for the presentation of their orders they may choose someone to present them.  Sara chose her brother so he would enter later with the other presenters.  

The stage was set

We were kept entertained and informed

then the Cadets proceeded...

followed by the faculty

Sara found us and waved

At the entrance the new covers and epaulets were assembled for presentation after they had taken their oath of office

We all watched as the President's helicopter flew in and landed to the north of the field. Finally the procession started and the faculty and cadets were all seated when Hail to the Chief started to play and President Obama entered the field.  The speeches started and the address by the President was warmly received, even by some of his not so supportive citizens by whom I was surrounded.  He quipped at the beginning that he'd come to New London, not only because the president always goes to one of the service academy graduations each year but this year specifically because of his State of the Union speech earlier.  When he'd named West Point (Army-for those unfamiliar with our US names) Annapolis (Navy) Colorado Springs (Air Force) no-one reacted but when he said New London apparently the internet lit up with Google searches to "prove the President's error."  New London is, of course, the home of the Coast Guard Academy.  There was a poignant moment when the representatives of 4 foreign nations who had sent cadets to the USCGA were recognized and then 2 cadets, 1 from the Republic of Georgia, were remembered after being killed in a motor vehicle accident only months before.  Then the presentation of diplomas and orders began.

The Cadets take a moment to thank their parents

Sara receives her orders from Christopher

Ens. Cantrell, USCG and 2nd Lt. Cantrell, USMC with their Commander in Chief, President Obama

No longer Cadets they throw their covers into the air

When Sara applied for college she was accepted at both Annapolis (Naval Academy) and New London (Coast Guard.)  She chose New London for many reasons but one was that the school is so much smaller.  Her class at Annapolis would have been as large as the entire student body at New London.  So, there were only 218 graduates and that meant that each of them could take the time to receive their honors and stand for pictures and not be rushed off stage so that the rest of us gathered would not become impatient.  The day was beautiful, the crowds were happy, the Cadets who became Ensigns were delirious with excitement.  President Obama, whatever one thinks of him, was clearly enjoying watching these young men and women receive their diplomas and regardless of how some feel about the choices they have made for their careers each and every one of them worked incredibly hard to get through the past 4 years and will stay for a least 2 years serving their country.  It isn't that easy a choice at this time in our history and I, a long time anti-war, not too thrilled (to put it mildly) with our actions and policies in many places, am still bursting with pride for both Christopher and Sara.  It was a thrill to see them both onstage with their Commander in Chief and sharing a moment that for all of us was special but really meaningful for both of them.  For me it was also special because Sara was the first of my nieces and nephews to have really spent time with us.  I'd gone to the Flag Ceremony in Mystic during her first 6 weeks of "Swab Summer" which is basically a torture period designed to see if the swabs could become Cadets.  They stood for an hour and a half in 95 (35 C) degree heat without moving.  (I tried it...I scratched after a minute and "fell out of attention" after 2.)  They'd lost some classmates and the "kids" I had seen that day were no longer.  They were young (so young to many of our eyes) men and women, excited but fully prepared for the next phase.  Fair Winds and Following Seas to all of them.

The graduates and families gathered on the field for pictures and greetings after the ceremonies were over and the president was gone and then the craziness began.  The planning to get us there was great.  getting us back...not so much.  There was no rhyme or reason to the arrival of the buses, no designated areas for the 3 different parking areas, etc.  After waiting for 45 minutes Don finally gave up and walked back. He got to let Phoenix out of the car after a long 7 hours but she had waited for us to return before relieving herself.   I, along with both of Donna's sisters brought up the rear over and hour later and we all made it to lunch barely in time for Christopher, Karen and the grandparents to hastily eat lunch and then leave to catch their planes.  But, it was to honor Sara and we all were proud and lunch was great and life happened.

A father's pride

Mom and Dad pin her new shoulder boards

Brother and Sister

My very wonderful nephew

and equally wonderful niece

Sara receives her first salute as an Ensign

Sara with her two diving coaches

We bid adieu to Sara who'd be off on an adventure with friends to start her 30 day leave until reporting for duty in Norfolk, VA and her mom and dad who would be schlepping her stuff back to FL. And then we headed north to MA.

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