US Navy sailor receives his promotion insignia
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Naval Academy Commissioning Week : What Parents Need To Know

A City Celebrates – USNA’s Rich History in Annapolis and Saluting Our Newly-Commissioned Graduates

After four years of rigorous academic study and military training, Naval Academy graduation week arrives every May with fanfare and celebration throughout Annapolis as the city honors the new midshipmen class, usually around 1,000. Ever since the US Naval Academy’s (USNA) founding in 1845, the picturesque and historic campus has anchored the edge of the peninsula, serving an integral role in both the culture and character of Annapolis, ushering in the best and brightest recruits from across the country as they train to take to the seas. When midshipmen toss their white covers skyward at the graduation ceremony, with their friends and families cheering from the stands, it symbolizes more than just gaining a diploma – it represents their commitment to becoming officers of “competence, character, and compassion.” Commissioning week is one of the most memorable moments of a midshipman’s military journey, with a detailed USNA web page dedicated to the weeklong series of events and festivities, an excellent resource before and during your visit.

As it gets closer to the big week, check in with your graduating midshipman for the most current updates, as exact scheduling may change due to weather. It’s also worth bookmarking the official Annapolis tourism website on your phone – it’s perfect for planning impromptu entertainment outings around town and includes a comprehensive Annapolis restaurant guide.

After their intensive training and education during four years of service at the Academy, there’s plenty to celebrate, from daily events on campus to group meals at excellent restaurants downtown and the breathtaking spectacle of the annual Blue Angels fly-over. Our Annapolis bed and breakfast, just a block from the USNA and right in the center of the action, is your perfect home base for commissioning week.

Close up of Admiral shaking the hand of a U.S. Navy sailor

More Than Just a Ceremony – A Full Week of USNA Festivities

Unlike other college graduations held on a single afternoon, the Naval Academy graduation week, also known as commissioning week, takes place over eight days (May 17-24, 2024). During the first weekend, festivities get rolling with daily guided campus tours offered throughout the morning until 3 pm, an evening Armed Forces Day concert at 6 pm on Saturday, May 18th, and a Sunday brunch on-campus from 9:30 am-3 pm on Sunday, May 19th for midshipmen and their guests. Before brunch, you’ll have your choice of religious services if you’d like to attend, with a Protestant service at St. Andrews Chapel and Catholic Mass at the Main Chapel. Even if you don’t attend the formal service, it’s worth taking a self-guided tour of the chapel, which is over 100 years old and one of the most iconic landmarks on the Yard, with its glorious stained-glass windows, towering copper dome, and crypt holding John Paul Jones, the “father of the Navy.” 

One of the more unique events occurs the week before graduation when plebes (USNA first-year students) climb the 21-foot-tall Herndon Monument in the Yard as fast as possible. The task is more challenging than it looks, as upper-level students coat the monument in vegetable oil, so the plebes have to form a human pyramid to climb up and place an upperclassman hat on the statue’s head. In the otherwise disciplined life of USNA students, it’s a playful and lighthearted rite of passage, equally fun for the plebes and spectators.

Throughout the early part of the following week, on Monday and Tuesday, May 20th and 21st, it’s a great time to visit the USNA Museum, which is open daily at 9 a.m. Here, you can get a fascinating overview of the Academy’s illustrious history, including replicas of legendary ships like the USS Maryland, which patrolled the oceans for nearly four decades. Grab a coffee at the 1845 Coffee outpost on the Yard, a reference to the year of the Academy’s founding (1845), and get some tasty eats from the food trucks that set up from 11 am – 1 pm on May 20th and 9 am – 3 pm on May 21st. On the afternoon of May 21st, find a place near the City Dock to watch the flight rehearsal of the famed Blue Angels as they take to the skies above the Severn River.

With hopes for clear skies allowing for smooth flying, Wed, May 22nd, will be all about the Blue Angels when their 2 pm fly-over draws thousands of people downtown to marvel at their stunning midflight maneuvers above the waters of Annapolis Harbor. Six pilots fly F/A-18 Hornets in formation during the demonstration, showcasing their incredible skills as spectators line the harbor and streets of Annapolis to take in the show. 

Several roadways and bridges shut down for safety hours before and during the fly-over, making driving anywhere challenging in and around Annapolis. Note that on both May 20th and 21st, the Route 450 Bridge coming into Annapolis closes from 10:45 am – 1 pm (when the Blue Angels make their flight arrival) and again from 1:45 pm – 4 pm (for the rehearsal on 5/20 and the flight demonstration on 5/21). But with our ideal downtown location, you can leave the car parked, stroll down to the waterfront within minutes, and grab a prime spot to watch this once-in-a-lifetime in-air performance. Should you need to drive into the city, park near the football stadium and hop on a free trolley to get down to the City Dock.

Naval Academy Graduation Day – Event Details and Planning the Perfect Celebration

All the Naval Academy graduation week festivities culminate in a stadium ceremony on Fri, May 24th, 2024. The Navy-Marine Corps Stadium, built over 60 years ago and nestled between Weems and College Creek (water surrounds us in Annapolis, which is why we’re known as the “sailing capital of the US”), holds 34,000 people, with dozens of seats appointed for guests of every graduating midshipman. The stadium – just over a mile from our front door – also hosts USNA lacrosse games, which are always entertaining, so catch one of their 2024 home games (3/30 vs. Colgate, 4/19 vs. Loyola, and 4/26 vs. Bucknell) if you’re visiting this spring.

Murray Suite Bedroom

On graduation day, parking opens at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium at 6:30 a.m., and stadium gates open at 7 a.m., so plan to arrive early to get situated in the stands before the Class of 2024 procession begins at 9 a.m. When the clock strikes 10 a.m., midshipmen officially become officers (either assigned to the Navy or enlisted as second lieutenants in the Marines), do their ceremonial cover toss, and the Blue Angels fly over the stadium at 10:04 a.m. The proceedings continue with speeches from the President, Vice-President, and top military leaders such as the Secretary of Defense. Exact speakers vary yearly and are not announced until a few weeks before the ceremony (a joint decision between the USNA and the White House), so check for press releases on the USNA website about speaker details starting in mid-April.

The ceremony goes until about noon, after which the ambiance turns more celebratory, with families mingling as graduates get officially signed in and take photos from 1 pm – 2:30 pm in the tent area at the stadium. Note that in the case of severe weather and the need to relocate the ceremony indoors, it takes place on campus at Alumni Hall. With the much smaller venue, guest tickets used to be limited to 4 but are now capped even lower, at only two guest seats granted per graduating midshipman. If it’s only light rain in the forecast, the ceremony will still be held outdoors at the stadium, so wear waterproof layers and bring paper towels to dry off your seats.

After the ceremony, plan a private gathering or get a memorable meal at one of several excellent restaurants nearby, where you can feast together and toast your midshipman’s momentous achievement. Harry Browne’s – just two blocks from our location, one of our favorite restaurants, and an Annapolis institution for over four decades – has a refined setting with a top-tier culinary pedigree. It has a classy white linen ambiance and a menu ranging from beef carpaccio and steamed mussels to legendary crab cakes, filet mignon, and artisan pizzas inspired by the USNA, like the “Blue Angel.” For a private celebration, rent their upstairs lounge, which seats up to 28 guests. 

Another great option and restaurant we wholeheartedly recommend is O’Leary’s, located on the other side of the Spa Creek Bridge, overlooking the harbor and looking back toward the USNA campus across the harbor. The service and quality of seafood are exceptional, whether you get oysters on the half-shell, Icelantic cod, or a whole lobster (a delicacy worthy of sharing with the table on a special occasion like commissioning week). O’Leary’s has a 22-seat private room available, including a menu prepared to your group’s liking by their executive chef.

As commissioning week is one of the busiest events of the year on the Annapolis calendar, getting your dining plans squared away as early as possible is essential, as last-minute reservations will be nearly impossible to snag. During your visit, feel free to ask us questions about the USNA, visitor highlights on the academy campus, and details about the graduation – it’s an annual event that we love, and we know you will, too.

Stay with us and experience the pomp, revelry, and excitement of Naval Academy graduation week in Annapolis!