A heritage of success
By William "T" Thompson, Association of Graduates chief executive officer
/ Published April 04, 2014
U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. --
Congratulations to the U.S. Air Force Academy on your 60th anniversary from the Academy's Association of Graduates.
During those 60 years, the Academy has become one of the most prestigious institutions of higher learning in the entire world.
It's easy to say our Academy is a great institution, but by what criteria do we prove that fact? One could certainly argue the academic and athletic success of our cadets over the past 60 years is worthy of due consideration.
The prodigious success of our military and airmanship programs during this time is clearly unequaled. The gorgeous Colorado setting of the Academy on 18,500 pine-covered acres, under the signature radiant blue skies, certainly contributes to the mix. But, in the final analysis, I believe the measure of a great educational institution is taken by the accomplishments of its graduates and by that criteria, we are indeed in a small, select group.
During our history, more than 630 graduates have become general officers with 36 achieving four-star rank, including the first female four- star general in the Air Force. Four of those generals have become Air Force chiefs of staff, one following in his father's footsteps. In all, about half of the current Air Force general officers are Academy grads.
We have also produced numerous true American heroes. Capt. Lance Sijan, Class of 1965, was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for bravery in Vietnam, and two of our graduates became Air Force aces in that same conflict.
Thirty-six of our graduates were prisoners of war and literally thousands of others have won medals for valor and heroism during a time of war.
From Vietnam to our current operations in the Middle East, 182 graduates have made the ultimate sacrifice, and their names are now forever etched in the black granite of the Graduate War Memorial.
Academy graduates have become world-class athletes and coaches. We have a two-time Olympic gold medalist, a three-time Super Bowl champion, and a four-time NBA world champion head coach.
Our graduates have excelled in academics and received numerous post graduate scholarships from many of the most respected programs around the world. Academy graduates have won a bevy of Fulbright, Marshall, and Harvard Kennedy School scholarships, with 38 graduates selected as recipients of the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship.
Academy graduates have conquered space, with 40 serving as NASA astronauts and one serving as the acting NASA administrator. Also, one graduate returned to the Air Force after a NASA assignment and achieved four-star rank, the only astronaut from any service to do so.
Our graduates have served in the political arena at local, state and federal levels. In fact, many grads have served in appointed positions at the highest levels of national government, including positions in the Defense Department, the Veterans Affairs Department and the Federal Aviation Administration.
We've produced doctors, lawyers, airline captains and college presidents. Our graduates have led Fortune 500 companies at the top levels, serving as vice chair of General Motors, publisher of the Los Angeles Times, president of Oracle Corporation and chief operating officer of the Air Force. And of course, who could forget the "Hero of the Hudson," airline Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, Class of '73.
Yes, we have come a long way in our short 60 years with a reputation for being a top-flight institution -- a reputation built by every graduate of this great institution. We eagerly look forward to building on this strong foundation in the coming years.