United States Air Force Academy

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The Traditions of the Academy

Cadets marching in parade

From the moment they step foot on campus for in-processing to the day they toss their caps in the air at graduation, a cadet’s experience at the U.S. Air Force Academy is steeped with pride and tradition.

Being a Falcon is about more than marathon study sessions and grueling military training. Before cadets fly off into the wild blue yonder, they’ll feel the pride in their chest as they march with the Cadet Wing for the first time, they’ll bond with teammates as they yell the “Falcon Fight” at the top of their lungs and they’ll swill a glass of champagne to find their coveted class ring at the bottom. See how our traditions create bonds among cadets and the long blue line of graduates.


Each June, In-processing Day (I-Day) begins with four-degree (freshman) cadets lining up by squadron. Appointees are dropped off at the Cadet Area and begin immediately receiving instruction from upper classmen before heading up the Honor Ramp for the first time. Appointees then take the Oath of Office and become a Basic Cadet. This will be proceeded by haircuts, immunizations, and the issuance of uniforms and dorms. Take a look at how we welcomed the Class of 2026. The Commandant of Cadets conducts a ceremonial class Swearing In ceremony the following day, formally kicking off 6-weeks of Basic Cadet Training (BCT).

Acceptance Parade

The end of Basic Cadet Training (BCT) is marked by the Acceptance Parade. During this event, cadets receive their fourth-class shoulder boards to recognize completing BCT and to signify their acceptance into the Cadet Wing. In a ceremony associated with the parade, new fourth-class cadets culminate the intensive BCT core values, honor, ethics and human relations training by taking the Academy Honor Code Oath and pledging to live by its principles. This parade is open to the public. Cadet families who attend are able to view the parade and the subsequent pin-on ceremonies. The Legacy Class is invited to view the parade and present Contrails to the outstanding basic from each of the 10 squadrons.

Commitment Dinner

Commitment Dinner is usually held the day before classes start. Once the cadets return to the Academy for their second-class year, they incur the financial or active duty “commitment” for their education if they depart the U.S. Air Force Academy prior to graduation. This profound commitment to the Air Force or Space Force is celebrated with a formal dinner. The Class Spirit Committee works with the Cadet Wing to give each cadet a coin to honor the event.


Homecoming is held during the first home Falcon football game after Parent’s Weekend. It is marked by the annual Homecoming Memorial Ceremony that honors the lives of graduates and former staff members that have passed away since the previous year’s ceremony. Cadets will read each of the names aloud followed by a 21-gun salute, the playing of taps and the laying of a wreath near the class wall. This ceremony also includes a moment of silence and prayer.

Parents' Weekend

Parents’ Weekend is an exciting opportunity for cadets to reconnect with their family for the first time following Basic Cadet Training. It is held over Labor Day weekend and includes a Cadet Wing Parade, an Information Fair, and an opportunity for parents and cadets to attend Academic, Squadron, Athletic and Airfield open houses.

Exemplar Dinner

During the fall semester, three-degree (sophomore) cadets select and honor their class exemplar who becomes the honorary class leader and namesake. Since the Class of 2000, each class has chosen someone who “exemplifies” the type of person the class wishes to emulate. The third-class cadets celebrate this selection at a formal Exemplar Dinner with their graduated Legacy Class members in attendance.

100s Night

100s night for the first-degree (senior) cadets takes place approximately 100 nights before graduation. It is an opportunity for the class to join with the Legacy Class over a formal dinner and celebrate 100 days to graduation and commissioning as Second Lieutenants in the U.S. Air Force and Space Force. Cadets are given liberty for the weekend to celebrate, while fourth-degree (freshman) cadets “decorate” their rooms in a festive manner.

National Character and Leadership Symposium

The annual, two-day National Character and Leadership Symposium (NCLS) is a flagship event on character and leadership. It provides an opportunity for cadets, permanent party, visiting university students and faculty, and community members to experience dynamic speakers and take part in group discussions to enhance their understanding of the importance of sound moral character and good leadership. See photos from NCLS 2022.


Recognition is the formal three-day finale of the fourth-class (freshman) year when cadets are “recognized” as upper-class cadets and allowed to wear the Prop and Wings insignia on their flight caps. It is a ceremonial acknowledgment that the fourth-class has successfully met military training requirements and is prepared to continue the rigorous and rewarding Academy journey. Recognition consists of several activities including a leadership course, an assault course and “The Run to the Rock.” In addition to challenging the fourth-class cadets, recognition provides the three upper classes with an opportunity to develop their leadership skills. Individual squadron ceremonies and a wing-wide celebratory evening meal mark the end of Recognition.

Founders Day

Founders Day is a traditional celebration of the legacy and future of the U.S. Air Force Academy and its founders. On 1 April, 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed Public Law 325 and authorized the establishment of the Academy. Speaking engagements are held at the Academy and abroad celebrating the anniversary. The Academy also hosts a parade the first Saturday in April. Watch this video to learn more about Founders Day.

Ring Dance

This formal ball is exclusively for two-degree (junior) cadets. It is held during Graduation Week, before the second-class cadets become first-class cadets, and is where they receive their class rings and unveil the class crest. The rings are traditionally placed in a glass of champagne and are caught in the teeth following a toast. United States Air Force Academy rings are unique because they are made with white gold, instead of the yellow gold used at other service academies. Designed by each class, one side of the ring bears the Academy crest, while the other side bears the class crest, which always includes elements from the Class of 1959’s crest: the class number, the class year, the Polaris star and the eagle.


Graduation Week is comprised of many activities and events across the Academy. Cadets and their guests take part in receptions, award ceremonies, baccalaureate services, concerts, parades, air demonstrations, and commissioning ceremonies. The week culminates at Falcon Stadium with the Graduation Ceremony. Speakers rotate between the President of the United States, Vice President, Secretary of Defense and Secretary of the Air Force. At the close of the ceremony, cadets are dismissed and ceremoniously toss their caps into the air. Cheers and celebration are quickly silenced by the roar of the legendary Thunderbirds flying overhead to honor the graduating class.