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United States Coast Guard Academy Commencement:
A New Era of Leaders in Maritime Security

By Daisuke Komatsu

On May 22, 2024, under a cloudless sky in New London, Connecticut, the 143rd Commencement Ceremony of the United States Coast Guard Academy took place. The atmosphere was solemn yet filled with joy and smiles. I had the honor of attending this ceremony as the first representative from the Japan Coast Guard, along with CDR Toru Chochi, the First Secretary of the Japanese Embassy in the US. The event marked the beginning of a new chapter for the young officers, who will play a crucial role in the future of maritime security in the United States. Among the attendees were Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas of the Department of Homeland Security and Admiral Linda L. Fagan of the Coast Guard, alongside numerous senior officials who gathered to celebrate the accomplishments of 225 graduates and wish them well as they navigate the turbulent waters of maritime security.

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Graduation ceremony held under a cloudless sky (Photo by the author)

The class of 225 cadets entered the academy in 2020, during the onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic. They endured the rigorous Swab Summer training under highly unusual and stringent conditions. Despite numerous preventive measures and the need for social distancing, they forged bonds with their classmates through masks, cultivated a sense of unity, and developed leadership skills. Witnessing their journey from these challenging beginnings to graduation was profoundly moving for me as a coast guard officer.


Madison Nicole Garrigus, a female student majoring in Marine and Environmental Science, served as the Cadet First Class (class valedictorian). Reflecting on the 200 weeks of cadet life amid the pandemic, she emphasized the class motto, "Fortiores Una" (Stronger Together), which encapsulated their collective resilience. Garrigus also quoted Jim Henson, creator and voice of Kermit the Frog from Sesame Street:

"When you start on your journey, remember this: there are never enough comfortable places to rest along the way. The place you’re heading for isn’t on any map. So forget the map, roll down the windows, and enjoy the picnic." She highlighted the importance of sometimes setting aside plans and enjoying the moment, recognizing that life’s journey does not always follow a predetermined path. Her speech resonated deeply with all present, celebrating the dedication and efforts of her classmates.

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Cadet First Class Madison Nicole Garrigus

(Photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Matthew Thieme)

The ceremony also included international cadets from the Philippines, Guyana, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, and Jordan, who are set to join their respective maritime security agencies as junior officers upon returning home. Ambassadors and defense attachés from these nations were present to congratulate the cadets, who proudly displayed their national flags when introduced during the "Welcome and Acknowledgement of International Cadets" segment, underscoring the event’s international camaraderie.


The Japan Coast Guard and the United States Coast Guard are strengthening their efforts to deepen academic exchange. On April 21, 2023, the superintendents of both academies signed and exchanged a cooperation document. Based on this document, the Japan Coast Guard Academy dispatched two trainees from its International Affairs Course to the United States Coast Guard Academy from mid-January to late February this year. Additionally, as of the time of writing, postgraduates from the Japan Coast Guard Academy are on an ocean voyage in the Pacific aboard the training ship "Kojima," with scheduled port calls in San Francisco, Honolulu, Guam, Koror, and Singapore. On May 13, three third-year (2/C) cadets from the United States Coast Guard Academy boarded the "Kojima" in San Francisco. They will participate in training alongside the postgraduates until the ship's scheduled arrival in Guam on June 8, further strengthening the relationship between the two academies. During this period, on May 28, a joint exercise was conducted off the coast of Honolulu involving the training ship "Kojima," U.S. Coast Guard cutters, and aircraft.

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Three United States Coast Guard Academy Cadets Boarding the Training Ship "Kojima" in San Francisco (Courtesy of the Japan Coast Guard)

My attendance, along with First Secretary CDR Chochi, at the United States Coast Guard Academy Commencement was part of these efforts to strengthen our relationship. During the receptions held before and after the ceremony, we exchanged views on further enhancing our relationship with key personnel, including RADM Johnstone, Superintendent; Dr. Zuczek, Head of the Political Science Department; and CDR Pecora, Chief of International Affairs. Strengthening ties between our educational institutions will significantly contribute to developing the next generation of leaders, advancing research and education in maritime security, and improving maritime safety in the Indo-Pacific and beyond.

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Graduates tossing their caps into the air (Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Taylor Bacon)

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