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Cadet candidates celebrate Academy Prep School graduation

Prep School graduatesCadet candidates wait for their names to be called during the U.S. Air Force Academy Preparatory School graduation May 22, 2023. (U.S. Air Force photo by Justin R. Pacheco)

By Randy Roughton
U.S. Air Force Academy Strategic Communications

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo.- Two cadet candidates were thinking of more than their impending Academy careers while attending the U.S. Air Force Academy Preparatory School graduation ceremony May 22, 2023. They were also thinking of doing justice to their fathers’ Academy legacies.

Appointee Paige Diehl’s father, Maj. David Diehl, a quarterback for the Academy football team who became a C-17 Globemaster pilot, died in 2013. Appointee Logan Argel was 10 months old on May 30, 2005, when his father, Capt. Derek Argel, was killed after his helicopter was shot down in eastern Iraq. Both officers were graduates of the Academy Class of 2001. Argel’s class voted his father the Class of 2023’s past leader of character that epitomizes integrity, service, and excellence in the Prep School’s Exemplar Program.

Fathers’ legacies

Argel’s father was on his mind often during the toughest times in the 10-month program, such as when he conquered “The Stairway to Heaven,” the steep, wooden, 211-foot, 300-step staircase behind the school.

“My father’s death was never a barrier to me coming to the Academy,” Argel said. “It was more my reason why I came. He left such a legacy. The Argel name is embedded in military history. I want to continue that path for him.”

Prep School cadet candidate Cadet candidate Logan Argel waits for his name to be called during the U.S. Air Force Academy Preparatory School graduation ceremony May 22, 2023. (U.S. Air Force photo by Justin R. Pacheco)

Argel and Diehl joined 177 cadets who celebrated their graduation from the program in the 62nd graduating class’s ceremony. This year’s class posted the third highest grade point average in the past 20 years, said Col. Michael Cornelius, Prep School commander. The Prep School offers a select group of cadet candidates a pathway to be admitted into the Academy. More than 82 percent of this year’s 218 cadets will make up 16 percent of the Academy’s class this fall.

After cadets graduate from the Prep School, they must reapply for admission to the Academy, and Cornelius can recommend them to the Academy board, the final appointment authority.

Diehl is already off to a good start in following her father’s past after, not only graduating from the Prep School but also earning the Overall Outstanding Cadet Candidate Award.

“I think being here at the Prep School gave me the push I needed to ensure that I have the qualities of a future officer,” Diehl said. “Just knowing that I am able to follow in [my father’s] footsteps really gives me my motivation every single day. Knowing he’s proud of me makes me proud of myself.”

Overall Outstanding Cadet Candidate Graduate Paige Diehl receives her Overall Outstanding Cadet Candidate award from U.S. Air Force Academy Preparatory School Commander Col. Michael Cornelius during her graduation ceremony May 22, 2023. (U.S. Air Force photo by Justin R. Pacheco)

A boost in the right direction

Students cannot apply directly to the Prep School. Rather, everyone who applies for admission to the Academy and is not offered a direct appointment is automatically considered for appointment to the Prep School.

Lt. Gen. Richard M. Clark, U.S. Air Force Academy superintendent, praised the soon-to-be graduates for their drive and determination and the preparation they acquired for their Academy careers.

However, he also gave an example to demonstrate that they may experience circumstances when those qualities may not be enough, sharing a story of visiting the beaches of Normandy and the insurmountable odds troops faced June 6, 1944.

“I also realized that it wasn’t just preparation that led to their success,” Clark said. “Their success also depended on the strength of character of the warriors who took part in that invasion. They fought for their country. They fought for their honor. And they fought for each other. That is the American grit they needed then, and that’s the same spirit you’re going to need now because your time is coming. But rather than taking the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, you’re going to be taking The Hill at USAFA on I-Day. Just like 80 years ago, success will rely not only on your preparation, but success is also going to rely on your character.”

Lt Gen Richard M. Clark
Lt. Gen. Richard M. Clark, U.S. Air Force Academy superintendent, gives cadet candidates their last motivational words before Prep School graduation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Justin R. Pacheco)

Bittersweet moments

Deficiencies in certain core subjects led Jaylen Palmer and Sofia Sanchez to the school for their Academy admission as it did for many cadet candidates. Losing a year to COVID-19 in 2020-21 was another factor, both graduates said.

“For me, it was a mixture of not being in school for a year with COVID and my SAT scores also had a big role in it,” said Sanchez, who received an award for outstanding female cadet candidate fitness. “I graduated high in my class, and I had really good grades throughout, but it didn’t necessarily translate to the SATs.”

Like many of his fellow Prep School graduates, Palmer considered graduation a bittersweet moment. He accomplished what he needed to in Prep School and will miss it, but it was time to move on to the next chapter.

“You know you’re going to miss the Prep School, but the reason you came here was to graduate and move on to your Academy career,” Palmer said. “It’s a big step forward after spending the last 10 months preparing for the Academy. Now the moment is finally here.”


Award winners

Samuel Parsons — Top English Cadet Candidate

Anders Stanton – Top Mathematics Cadet Candidate

Peter Nguyen – Top Science Cadet Candidate

Cam Anstey – Most Improved Cadet Candidate

Maxim White – Most Outstanding Overall Cadet Candidate

Sofia Sanchez — Top Physical Fitness Test-PFT- and Aerobic Fitness Test-AFT- Cadet Candidate

Gavin Caprella — Top PFT and AFT Cadet Candidate

Jayda McNabb — Outstanding Athlete Candidate (Female)

Houston Thomas — Outstanding Athlete Candidate (Male)

Esperanza Grado — Outstanding Military Cadet Candidate

Ryan Melroy — Outstanding Character Development Cadet Candidate

Paige Diehl — Overall Outstanding Cadet Candidate


See more photos from the Academy Prep School graduation, as well as the Prep School graduation parade on Flickr.