The Class of 2020 Commencement Recap

On Friday, May 15, 2020, the 131st Missouri Military Academy Corps of Cadets celebrated their graduation in the Memorial Chapel among their MMA brothers and faculty and staff. The commencement ceremony (watch video) and Final Formation (watch video) were closed to the public due to the COVID-19 pandemic and shared via livestream.

“Our cadets achieved a very important milestone by maintaining their focus and discipline on their academic studies, military training and character and leadership development during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Academy President Richard V. Geraci. “These cadets have displayed the highest levels of resiliency, self-discipline, resolve and teamwork while following strict guidelines, and I am extremely proud of their bearing, conduct and growth.” 

Photos from commencement weekend can be found here.  

Commencement Address 

General Frank J. Grass, a former member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, provided a virtual commencement address to the Class of 2020 at 3 p.m. on Monday, May 11 via Zoom private broadcast. The commencement address was held virtually to maintain the Academy’s contained campus policy, which prohibits nonessential guests from visiting the Academy to ensure the health and safety of all cadets.  

In his address, General Grass shared five valuable lessons about leadership and personal drive: decide your own future; build trust and relationships; lead by example and with humility; never quit; and have balance in life. Read more about General Grass' commencement address here

Commencement Ceremony 

The commencement ceremony began with a procession of the graduates led by Business Department Chair MAJ Peggy Reynard (MMA), carrying the faculty mace. Seniors marched in and sat two per pew, in respect to social distancing guidelines.  

Sergeant Major Michael Naughton then lit the Memorial Flame on behalf of his MMA brother, Battalion Command Sergeant Major Cadet Roberto Rodriguez, The Keeper of the Flame.  The Memorial Flame burns in honor and memory of MMA alumni who have fallen in the line of military duty or as first responders in communities around the world.  

Once the flame was lit, the MMA Color Guard, which included cadets Ruby Kagaragwa, Dahlil Belko, Michael Machary-Pagan and Shane Macon, presented the flags, and Battalion Commander John Murphy led the pledge of allegiance.  

Academy President Brigadier General Richard V. Geraci then gave a welcoming address to the Class of 2020. In his speech, President Geraci recognized MMA faculty and staff for the impact they have had on cadets and shared advice to the Class of 2020.  

“I want to offer you a bit of advice based on my own personal experience. It is through serving others in some capacity that you will have the greatest chance of finding happiness, success and peace. Our best leaders seek to serve others, and all of you have the capacity to be that kind of leader,” he said. “You are all equipped to overcome any adversity. You have the power of discipline, and you have the MMA brotherhood – a bond of love and trust that will keep you connected and supporting each other for the rest of your lives. Stand tall as you leave MMA. You are confident, goal-oriented, aspiring leaders of character, ready to make your mark on your communities and the world.” 

President Geraci then presented the Bob Albright Class of 1949 Faculty Award for Excellence in Teaching to Stephen Maziarz, as the most outstanding teacher for the 2019-20 academic year.  

Class President Devonte Knight then stepped forward to present the senior class gift on behalf of the Class of 2020. Their gift to the Academy is to fund the purchase of universal flag stands to display flags from all countries represented in the corps of cadets. This year, 55 members of the corps hail from 15 different countries: Brazil, China, Egypt, Kenya, Mexico, Mongolia, Nigeria, Norway, Portugal, Rwanda, Singapore, Taiwan, Uganda, and Vietnam. 

Next, Academic Dean Mike Harding read the list of academic distinctions. Academic distinctions are reserved for cadets who earned an A in each marking period in their classes, including Triumph Program courses. See list of academic distinctions here.  

Then, the following awards were given out to recognize seniors for their outstanding character, leadership, academic and athletic success: 

JROTC Awards 

  • The Master Sergeant Billy Crawford memorial Award for bravery has been awarded to John Murphy.  

  • The Celebrate Freedom Foundation JROTC Award for Excellence in Academics was awarded to DeVonte Knight. 

  • The Major Jerome G. Harris Award for Most Soldierly Qualities in ROTC is annually chosen by the faculty and given to a cadet who possesses the most soldierly qualities. Harris was a professor of military science and tactics, served in WWI and WWII USA, with a rank of Colonel. This year’s recipient is Garry Siccardi.  

  • The ROTC Distinguished Service Award is given to a senior for contribution to the ROTC program. This year’s recipient is Ruby Kagaragwa. 

President's Awards 

  • The Charles I. Wall Cup, in honor of “Stony” Wall, Class of 1922 is the second highest leadership award given. It is awarded to a cadet who best typifies those ideals of character, leadership, scholarship and service upon which the Academy was founded. This year the cup was awarded to Bruno Pozzani. 

  • First awarded in 1918, the Legion of Honor is the highest award which can be given to a cadet. The president will present the award to the cadet who demonstrates industry, integrity, leadership and loyalty to MMA. The recipient this year was John Murphy. 

  • This year’s salutatorian – the second highest academic distinction – is John Murphy. 

  • The Dr. James C. Olson Award, donated by the former University of Missouri president, is for the highest scholarship in the Class of 2020 and therefore deemed the Class of 2020 Valedictorian. The Class of 2020 valedictorian is Michael Naughton.  

As awards concluded, valedictorian Michael Naughton took the stage to address his fellow MMA brothers. Thanking key faculty and staff who have become like family to him, he spoke of kinship at MMA and revealed lessons of teamwork, brotherhood and love he has learned. 

“Seniors, each of our support groups is a bit different (at MMA). Some may have turned to a brother that they found in the corps or also to a teacher they found as a parent figure, but the lesson here is that these bonds are essential in life,” he said. “This family, either the one you are born into or the ones that you will make, are going to be the most important thing in your life. The support you receive will help you get some of your worst moments and elevate your good ones … Don’t be afraid to embrace these bonds. For they will make your story worth reading.” 

Following Naughton’s address, President Geraci and Dean Harding presented the graduating class their diplomas. See list of graduates here

Closing the ceremony, Battalion Commander John Murphy, accompanied by Master Sergeant Samuel Feldmann on the piano, led the graduates, faculty and staff in singing “Old MMA.” Upon completion of the song, Dean Harding delivered the benediction.  

 

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