USAFA Distinguished Graduate honorees announced

The United States Air Force Academy and the Air Force Academy Association of Graduates are proud to announce the Distinguished Graduate honorees for 2021.

Among the highest honors an Air Force Academy graduate can receive, the award recognizes alumni who have set themselves apart by making a lifetime of significant contributions to the nation, their alma mater and their communities.

The 2021 Distinguished Graduates are: Col. (Ret.) Leonard “Lucky” Ekman ’63 of Alamogordo, New Mexico; Dr. William Wecker ’63 of Jackson, Wyoming, and Novato, California; and Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Eugene Lupia ’67 of Fairfax Station, Virginia, and Tampa, Florida. They will receive their awards at the annual Distinguished Graduate banquet this summer at the Air Force Academy.

“This year’s three honorees have certainly distinguished themselves in their service to the nation and beyond,” says Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Mike Gould ’76, chief executive officer of the Association of Graduates and Air Force Academy Foundation. “Their lives represent the gold standard for Academy graduates. We look forward to celebrating their many professional and personal accomplishments in the days ahead.” 

About the 2021 Distinguished Graduates:

Col. (Ret.) Leonard “Lucky” Ekman

After graduating from the Academy in 1963, Ekman became one of the most highly decorated F-105 pilots during the Vietnam War. He went on to roles as an instructor pilot and commander of an F-105 and F-4 squadron at George Air Force Base in California. He also taught in his alma mater’s political science department and served as an Air Officer Commanding. He served three years as commander of the Weapons System Evaluation Program for the fighter force. After 27 years of service to the Air Force, Ekman retired as senior fellow at the Atlantic Council after two years as vice commander of the 16th Air Force. In retirement, Ekman has continued to support the Air Force Academy and Cadet Wing as a volunteer and philanthropist.

William Wecker, Ph.D.

During his Air Force career, Wecker flew more than 100 combat missions over North Vietnam in the F-4. Later, he became the Air Force chief of protocol in Berlin, due, in part, to his language skills. After seven years on active duty, Wecker separated from the Air Force and completed his Ph.D. in statistics and applied mathematics, eventually becoming a professor at the University of Chicago. He conducted research that led to valuable tools for national security and public policy analysis. After 20 years in academia, Wecker launched a consulting firm, working with companies and governments to solve complex problems. To better support his alma mater, Wecker envisioned the idea for the United States Air Force Academy Endowment, later renamed the Air Force Academy Foundation, which has resulted in over $215 million in private contributions to USAFA over the past 15 years.

Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Gene Lupia

Upon graduation from the Academy, Lupia launched into a 32-year Air Force career as a civil engineer. In his final four years on active duty, Lupia served as the Air Force civil engineer — the first USAFA graduate to serve in that role. Upon retirement, Lupia joined CH2MHill, a global engineering and construction firm, where he held several key leadership positions. During his tenure, revenues at the firm more than doubled. Throughout his lifetime, Lupia has remained a steadfast supporter of his alma mater, playing a hands-on role in nearly every facility improvement or development project at USAFA.

The Academy and AOG have selected Distinguished Graduates each year since 2001. Col. Ekman, Mr. Wecker and Gen. Lupia bring the total number of USAFA alumni honored as Distinguished Graduates to 53.



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