MMA Graduate Hugs President Bush

Wednesday, June 21, 2006
In a story reported by the NY Times, Gabriel Whitney says he did not plan to nearly suffocate President Bush in a bear hug. In fact, he did not plan to hug him at all. But when Mr. Whitney, one of 202 midshipmen to graduate from the United States Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, N.Y., on Monday, stepped forward to receive his diploma, it just sort of happened. Call it irrational exuberance. But after six years of undergraduate school and 4,872 demerits, Mr. Whitney, 25, of Nashua, N.H., could hardly restrain himself. With more reason than most to be overjoyed, the 6-foot-7 midshipman stepped onto the stage to accept his degree and hugged Vice Adm. Joseph D. Stewart, the academy's superintendent. Then he raised both arms in a victorious salute as his classmates roared their approval. Elated and with his arms still upraised, he turned toward President Bush, who had just delivered the commencement address. Mr. Bush, wearing a quizzical expression, responded by raising his arms as well and moved in for a hug. The midshipman — almost unwittingly — found himself squeezing the president in his powerful arms. When the president caught his breath, he shook Mr. Whitney's hand. Mr. Whitney's sister, who works in an advertising office, had designed T-shirts for the 15 family members who attended the ceremony. Mr. Whitney's many difficulties in reaching graduation were emblazoned on the front of the shirt: 4,872 demerits ("painful"); four and a half years on academic restriction ("wounding"); two visits to the committee that weighs student expulsions ("agonizing"); two reprieves from the admiral ("necessary"); and six years of school with only an undergraduate degree to show for it ("humbling"). The back of the shirt, which bore a photograph of the midshipman and the American flag, celebrated his crowning achievement: "Passing all licensing exams, first try: Priceless." Source: NY Times
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