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.

A brigade of midshipmen arrive for the U.S. Naval Academy’s graduation ceremony at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium on May 26, 2023. The graduating midshipmen are commissioned as either an ensign in the U.S. Navy or a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

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.

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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.

Midshipmen eat, nap, check their phones and pass the time as they wait for the U.S. Naval Academy’s graduation ceremony to begin at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium on May 26, 2023. The graduating midshipmen are commissioned as either an ensign in the U.S. Navy or a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

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.

Caroline Schieuer shows off her cover before the U.S. Naval Academy’s graduation ceremony at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium on May 26, 2023. She tucked in $23, as well as a quote from Muhammad Ali, into her cover for someone else to find after the cap toss. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

Some facts about this year’s graduating class:

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Graduating midshipmen watch as the Blue Angels perform a flyover during the U.S. Naval Academy’s graduation ceremony at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium on May 26, 2023. The graduating midshipmen are commissioned as either an ensign in the U.S. Navy or a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

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.”

Additional scenes from the graduation ceremony:

A graduating midshipman who will be joining the U.S. Navy yells “I DO” as he takes his oath of office during the U.S. Naval Academy’s graduation ceremony at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium on May 26, 2023. The graduating midshipmen are commissioned as either an ensign in the U.S. Navy or a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)
One just-graduated ensign jumps onto the back of another newly commissioned ensign at the conclusion of the U.S. Naval Academy’s graduation ceremony at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium on May 26, 2023. The graduating midshipmen are commissioned as either an ensign in the U.S. Navy or a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)
Sporting a former midshipman’s discarded cover, Robert Payton, 6, rides around on the shoulders of J.D. Patterson at the U.S. Naval Academy’s graduation ceremony at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium on May 26, 2023. The graduating midshipmen are commissioned as either an ensign in the U.S. Navy or a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps.
Sporting a former midshipman’s discarded cover, Robert Payton, 6, rides around on the shoulders of J.D. Patterson at the U.S. Naval Academy’s graduation ceremony at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium on May 26, 2023. The graduating midshipmen are commissioned as either an ensign in the U.S. Navy or a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)
Thousands of families and loved ones connect with their graduates in the center of the field at the U.S. Naval Academy’s graduation ceremony at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium on May 26, 2023. The graduating midshipmen are commissioned as either an ensign in the U.S. Navy or a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

ulysses.munoz@thebaltimorebanner.com

rick.hutzell@thebaltimorebanner.com

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