On Friday, 1,018 Naval Academy midshipmen tossed their “covers” in the air as part of the traditional hat toss. The ritual ends their four years in Annapolis and marks part of the moment that most are commissioned as Navy and Marine Corps officers.
While Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s keynote address might have been the most serious moment, it was the toss that most people will remember about this graduation — or any commissioning ceremony at the academy in the last 111 years.
It started in 1912. That was the year when the Navy allowed midshipmen to take the oath as officers instead of serving two years in the fleet as midshipmen, according to the Department of Defense. In short, mids leaving Annapolis needed to hang on to those hats, called covers.
Technically, Navy regulations call it a combination cap. It features a gold pin-on fouled anchor attached to the mount of the band. It is worn squarely on the head, bottom edge horizontal and approximately 1½ inches above the eyebrow. A comparable Navy hat costs about $120.
With President William Howard Taft present as the commencement speaker that first year, graduation ceremonies were held inside at Dahlgren Hall because Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium had yet to be imagined. The Class of 1912 spontaneously gave three cheers for those they left behind and threw their hats into the air in celebration.
Then they walked away, leaving them behind for an officer’s cover.
Some midshipmen tuck money, military coins or notes inside the hats, hoping the children who rush the field after the ceremony claim them as keepsakes, or just as a way of saying goodbye to Annapolis. Most mids have two or three hats, and keep the one they want as a personal souvenir.
But many go home with family, friends and spectators — you can find them tucked into odd places in homes around Annapolis.
Some facts about this year’s graduating class:
- The class is made up of 751 men and 261 women.
- There are 744 new Navy ensigns and 257 Marine Corps second lieutenants.
- Of the graduates, 16 will not receive their commissions until later.
- Eleven foreign nationals are part of the class, although they will go on to serve in their own nations’ navies.
- The top academic graduate, Peter Davis Hillen of Orinda, California, is a physics and history major who accepted a Marine Corps commission.
It was the final graduation for Vice Adm. Sean Buck, who will retire as superintendent this summer. He plans to split his time between homes in Edgewater and Florida. He led the academy through the COVID pandemic, converting to remote learning and spreading mids out to the St. John’s College campus in Annapolis.
“Supe, you’ve led this brigade through incredibly challenging times,” Austin said. “I want to thank you for your many years of service. And as your retirement beckons, we wish you fair winds and following seas.”