About 250 midshipmen in the Class of 2016 made a major life decision Thursday night in front of their cheering peers: their first ship and home port.
"It's like the NFL draft," said Cmdr. John Schofield, an academy spokesman.
Mids who will serve as surface warfare officers (SWO) peeled ship names off boards on stage at Mahan Hall for Ship Selection Night. The audience of fellow mids and military officials applauded and held balloons and signs reading: "Don't give up the ship," "Pier pressure," and "If you can't SWO there, don't go there."
Vice Adm. Thomas S. Rowden, the "SWO boss," stood in front of the assignment boards and congratulated the midshipmen.
"Your future, right here," he said. "You're going to be the face of the Navy and take us where we need to be."
Mids were announced in "overall order of merit," the cumulative class rank based on academic, military and physical standing within their class. Ship options included destroyers and littoral combat ships across the world, from Norfolk, Virginia, to Japan.
Littoral ships are intended for operations close to shore.
During ship selection, mids are only allowed to choose from ships still available at the time their name is called. The academy mascot, Bill the goat, got first pick: Annapolis. After that was the USS Zumwalt in San Diego.
Midshipman Caroline Zotti got her first choice: a littoral combat ship in San Diego.
"It's nerve wracking making a life decision in front of (everyone)," said Zotti, who is from Annapolis.
The ceremony was live-streamed online for 13,000 viewers, said academy spokeswoman Jenny Erickson.
Midshipman Deborah Mullen, from Mount Airy, chose the USS Sterett, a destroyer in San Diego.
"The years leading up to this moment... it happens really quickly," she said. "I can't wait to meet my division."
Midshipman Daniel Dawson chose the USS Stockdale in San Diego, where his fiance will join him.
"I'm honored to be a part of that legacy," said Dawson, who is from Glen Burnie.
Senior leaders in the surface warfare community attended the event and welcomed the newcomers to their ships with mementos like pins and shoulder boards.
Midshipman Michelle Nelson, from Severna Park, was the first to choose the USS Carney in Spain and was presented with a gold-handled sword by five commanding officers of the ship.
"I'm ecstatic. It feels like everything was worth it," she said.
The sword is from the Naval Academy Class of 1935, said Tony Kurta, a retired rear admiral.
"They presented it to me in 1981, I used it for my career of 34 years, and now 81 years later, it belongs to someone of the class of 2016," he said.
Schofield said academy ship selection is unique in the Navy. When the Villanova University graduate got his own ship assignment, it was by email.
"This does not happen anywhere else," he said. "This is special."
Midshipmen 1st Class were informed of their Navy and Marine Corps career assignments in November.
Zotti's mother, Priscilla Machado Zotti, is a professor at the academy and said she is very proud.
"She's worked hard for four years. This is what she wants to serve," she said. "It's bittersweet. Of course, I'll miss her."