Class of 2015: Welcome to the 'Long Blue Line'

William "T." Thompson is the president and CEO of the Association of Graduates; a non-profit organization that supports the Air Force Academy and its alumni. (U.S. Air Force photo)

William "T." Thompson is the president and CEO of the Association of Graduates; a non-profit organization that supports the Air Force Academy and its alumni. (U.S. Air Force photo)

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- To the U.S. Air Force Academy's Class of 2015, on behalf of the Association of Graduates, I want to extend my wholehearted congratulations and welcome you as our newest members of the Long Blue Line.

You are the 57th class to graduate from the Academy and we are proud to have you take your place among the more than 47,000 graduates who have gone before you. It has taken four demanding years of your life, but you are now prepared to serve your country with great distinction.

In a relatively brief period of time, the Academy has become one of the world's most prestigious institutions and you are about to become a part of its rich tradition. As we celebrate our 61st anniversary, it is appropriate to review the proud heritage of Academy graduates who have gone before you.

Let me share some of the attributes of the graduate community you join today. W

We have graduated 47,059 cadets who have become leaders of character across our great nation. More than 640 Academy graduates have become general officers, including 37 four stars, and four Air Force chiefs of staff. Our graduates are war heroes who've been awarded the Medal of Honor and numerous Distinguished Flying Crosses and Silver Stars. We are proud that two of the three Air Force Aces in Vietnam were Academy graduates and we respect and honor the 37 graduates who were prisoners of war. Finally, we honor the 182 graduates who made the ultimate sacrifice and have their names inscribed on the Academy's War Memorial.

Our graduates have gone on to achieve great heights - literally. In fact, 40 graduates have become astronauts and one, until very recently, held the record for the longest walk in space. We have won numerous post-graduate academic awards, including the Marshall, Fulbright and 38 Rhode Scholarships. Academy graduates are doctors, lawyers, business leaders and entrepreneurs. They are members of the clergy, teachers, college presidents and aviation professionals. Our graduates have served as political leaders at all levels in the country including Congress, and the highest appointed positions of our national government.

Academy graduates are in leadership positions throughout our great nation, all subscribing to the core values of integrity first, service before self and excellence in all we do. You will now take your place as a member of this impressive group.

The world you are graduating into is a challenging one. Though the country is winding down from recent conflicts, we are still besieged by terrorist threats. The leadership training you have received and the values you have accepted gives our country the highest confidence in your abilities to protect and persevere.

I know it has been a long four years and you are ready to meet the new challenges that lie ahead, yet I strongly urge you to stay connected to the institution that has given you such a unique opportunity. Most of you are AOG members but for those of you who have not joined, we urge you to become involved with the association. Help support the many cadet programs you have experienced: the leadership and character programs, the conferences and symposiums, the intramurals and cadet clubs, and the foreign travel and language emersion programs, to mention just a few.

You have the responsibility to reach back by giving back to the cadets who will follow you. Realize that you have an obligation to ensure that they enjoy a better opportunity than you have enjoyed just as prior grads have done for you. The AOG is proud to welcome you as members of the Long Blue Line and stands ready to assist you in any way. Contact us at www.usafa.org when we can ever be of service. I wish you all the best for 2015. Remember, "One team, one fight"