For the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy's freshman class, Saturday's Acceptance Day ceremony at the academy's Tomb Field in Kings Point brought feelings of happiness and relief.
Having completed a grueling 20-day indoctrination during which they underwent intense physical, academic and military training, nearly 250 plebe candidates swore their allegiance to the academy and the U.S. Navy, becoming full plebes, or freshman students.
Saturday's events also marked the first reunion between students and their families since "indoc" began June 30.
"It was awesome to be able to marshal with my company," Jessica Reilly said.
Dressed in her white uniform, the 17-year-old from Sayville embraced her mother, Lori, on the field. "We were very happy and proud that she was even thinking about coming here," Lori Reilly, 43, said, beaming.
The four-year college, one of five U.S. service academies, trains students for roles on military and private vessels. Students who finish the challenging curriculum earn a bachelor of science degree, a Coast Guard license and a commssion as an ensign or second lieutenant in the military.
Trumpets and cheering family greeted the Class of 2019 Saturday as they marched around Tomb Field, following the American flag, the academy's battle standard, and flags that represented the U.S. Merchant Marine and the academy.
Rear Adm. James Helis led the students in reciting the midshipman's oath; and Rear Adm. Mark Whitney led the Navy oath. Whitney, who was also guest speaker, told the students to remember their experiences as they become leaders.
"Having come from a maritime academy, you will have a leg up because you will have done a lot of the things you're going to expect people to do," he said.
From the bleachers, James Beshada, 26, watched his brother, Erik, 19, on the field. Beshada, who graduated from the academy in 2012 with a degree in logistics and intermodal transportation, said he was proud to see Erik follow him. "The opportunities given to you here are second to none," said Beshada, 2nd officer with the Sealift Command.
Following the ceremony, Natalie Glascock, 18, of Dover, Delaware, and Devin Fiorenza, 18, of Tega Cay, South Carolina, said that while indoc was tough, they were looking forward to more challenges. "It's good knowing that we passed the first hurdle," Fiorenza said.