MARYLAND

Obama addresses Naval Academy graduates

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For Keegan Merkert of Severna Park it was a moment of supreme joy. And having shaken the president's hand and received his diploma Friday it was also a moment to finally exhale after years of hard work.

“I'm relieved to be done and really looking forward to a Naval career,” Merkert says. Merkert is ABC7 reporter Brad Bell’s nephew.

Thanks to the sequester, the Blue Angels didn't fly over the graduation ceremony at the Navy Marine Corps stadium. But all the other traditions carried on.

As he does every four years, the president handed diplomas to the top students and shook the hands or hugged all the others.

He also addressed a current concern in the military.

Obama issued a pointed call Friday for an end to sexual assaults in the military, appealing to graduating midshipmen to display honor and moral courage to contain what has become a growing epidemic.

Obama spoke at the commissioning ceremony for 1,047 midshipmen, telling the 841 men and 206 women that the wrongdoing of a few can damage the nation's institutions, from government to Wall Street, and that "even in our military we've seen how the misconduct of some can have effects that ripple far and wide"

"Those who commit sexual assault are not only committing a crime, they are threatening the trust and discipline that make out military strong," he said.

A Pentagon report released earlier this month estimated that up to 26,000 military members may have been sexually assaulted last year. It said thousands of victims are still unwilling to come forward despite stronger efforts to curb the crimes.

Obama also urged the new Navy ensigns and Marine second lieutenants to use the leadership skills and values learned at the Naval Academy to help prevent behavior on the battlefield that can damage the image of the U.S. overseas.

"In our digital age, a single image from the battlefield of troops falling short of their standards can go viral and endanger our forces and undermine our efforts to achieve security and peace," the president said.

Obama spoke amid cool temperatures and a light rain, which drove away many spectators and left large sections of the blue stadium seating empty.

And then when all had crossed the stage, the new ensigns toss away their midshipmen hats and find their parents for the most emotional of traditions.

Hugs, the presentation of officer hats and shoulder boards, and tears.

“I graduated in 1976 my son is in 2013. Good time. Special wonderful,” says Earnest Halton.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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