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Adapted Training and Unique Graduation Day for 65 New Troopers Educated During Global Pandemic

Excitement filled the rooms that separated 65 recruits into small groups to adhere to social distancing guidelines. Just minutes away from becoming Michigan State Police Troopers, every deep breath taken to calm graduation day nerves was contained by a face mask. 

As the ceremony started, oaths recited and badges presented to members of the 137th Trooper Recruit School, nearly all of the seats in the Training Academy auditorium were empty. Even so, hundreds of people were watching - more than 740 at the ceremony's peak, live on YouTube. 

"Let me take a moment to welcome and thank all those people, who I can't see, but who I know are out there supporting us," said Col. Joe Gasper, director of the MSP. "Today, will no doubt be a memorable one. Memorable is certainly a fitting word to describe the training experience of this class. No matter what new challenge and how unexpected, they accepted the challenge and pushed forward."

This graduation day as unique as the women and men making up the class, including someone who has played piano since the age of 6 and also at the 2012 Outback Bowl, another who completed a 279 mile bicycle trip, a professional magician, someone married underwater while scuba diving in Fiji, one who was taught as a child that police were bad, and another who knows what it's like to have family members who are incarcerated.   

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, giving the keynote address virtually, alluded to those narratives.

"I truly believe that by working together we can create a safe, just and secure Michigan," said keynote speaker Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. "A critical component in achieving that goal is making sure that everyone feels both safe and welcome. That's where you come in. As troopers, our residents and visitors will place their trust in you and turn to you for assistance in their toughest moments of need. I'm also looking to you to lead the way for law enforcement in our state."

When they reported for their first day in January, COVID-19 wasn't yet in Michigan or in our daily vocabulary. Two months later, recruits would return home to stay. They spent the next six weeks engaged in distance, online learning. In-person education resumed on May 9. 

That wasn't the only distinguishing aspect of this class. For the first time ever, recruits received post assignments when accepted into recruit school. That meant knowing where they would begin their career, immediately, instead of having to wait until the end of their training. 

Additionally, each recruit was placed at one of their three preferred posts and connected with a personal contact there, someone to interact with and help build relationships with other veteran members.

Tpr. Nolan Gillespie was elected Class Orator by his fellow recruits and spoke on behalf of the graduating class at the ceremony. 

"We were tested in a way like no other recruit school before us, albeit, in an unorthodox manner," said Trooper Gillespie. "Troopers make the right choices, especially when no one is watching. Our atypical recruit school led us to one conclusion, all of us must work as if we have proved nothing."

Other award recipients included Tpr. William Fandel who received the Team Building Award, Tpr. Michael Vallier who received the Outstanding Performance Award, Tpr. Anthony Nyberg who received the Academic Achievement Award and Tprs. Nason Haenlein and Alex VanWagner who received the Marksmanship Award.

Recruits received training in patrol techniques, ethics, cultural diversity and implicit bias, decision making, leadership, criminal law, report writing, firearms, water safety, first aid, defensive tactics, crime scene processing and precision driving. 

"I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge the extreme times of social change these new troopers will immediately meet upon graduation," said Colonel Gasper in closing. "As discussions take place both nationally and here in our state regarding the future of policing and how law enforcement can better support underrepresented communities, I am confident that these recruits have sacrificed and selected this career because they desire to make a change and serve to the best of their abilities with care and respect for all. Our department's greatest strength is our members and together, I know we will make a difference."