JUNE 18, 2012 — The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA), Kings Point, N.Y., has graduated 219 members of its Class of 2012 at a commencement ceremony where Captain Mark Kelly, Class of '86 and a former NASA astronaut, gave the address before an audience of more than 2,000.
Captain Kelly is a retired U.S. Navy captain and naval aviator who flew combat missions in the Gulf War prior to joining the space program. He was plunged into the media spotlight following the January 8, 2011 attempted assassination of his wife, U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle "Gabby" Giffords, the target of an attempted assassination in Tucson, Arizona, on January 8, 2011. After the shooting, in which six people were killed, both Kelly and Giffords were thrust into the media spotlight. His wife's shooting led to a broad national conversation ranging from the duties of a husband to what is acceptable civil discourse.
"However today's graduates choose to continue serving their country, I'm certain that Captain Kelly's remarkable life story will be an inspiration to them all," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. "I am extremely proud of these new leaders who will serve our nation with honor and a commitment to excellence."
The congressionally-nominated graduates received both a Bachelor of Science Degree and a merchant marine officer license.
This year's graduates represent 37 states and the four foreign countries of South Korea, Malaysia, Panama and Singapore. USMMA graduates have the option of joining the Naval Reserves and working in the seagoing merchant marine and transportation industry, or applying for active duty in any of the Armed Forces. Based on Academy estimates, 21 percent of the 2012 graduates will serve in active military duty and more than 67 percent will be employed on board commercial and Navy ships.
"There is currently a significant shortage of marine engineers in this country and also around the world," said Dr.Sashi Kumar, the academy's acting superintendent and academic dean. "With this graduating class, more than half are graduating as marine engineers. As a federal academy, we are constantly adjusting our curriculum to meet the changing needs of the maritime industry and provide the most qualified merchant marine officers to meet our country's needs in both war and peace."