Thursday, 27 May 2010
Graduation Week at West Point this year started cool, gray and damp as GEN Ralph E. Haines, Jr., proudly wearing a straw planter’s hat emblazoned ’35 Is Still Alive, led a few hundred members of the “younger reunion classes,” ’40, ’45, ’50, ’55 and ‘60, down Diagonal Walk to Thayer Monument in a persistent drizzle. There, he departed from tradition by addressing a monologue to Thayer, the Glee Club, the Cadet Honor Cordon, all graduates present, and a smattering of family members. He ended, appropriately enough, with “Beat Navy!” The former commanding general of Continental Army Command just may have started something. A wreath was placed, with the assistance of First Captain Tyler Gordy ’10, salutes rendered, and the Glee Club provided stirring renditions of The Corps and the Alma Mater. Except for those groups mentioned, the Corps of Cadets did not participate—the review was cancelled due to weather, which was more favorable for the receptions for the graduating class and families in the Superintendent’s garden and reviews during the remainder of Graduation Week.
On Saturday morning, 22 May 2010, 1,002 members of the Class of 2010 graduated under pleasant temperatures and sunny skies at Michie Stadium. Of these, 135 are women, 70 are Asian-Pacific, 68 are Hispanic, 54 are African-American, six are Native American, and 14 are International Cadets. Of those graduates entering the Armed Forces of the United States, 195 branched Infantry, 135 chose Field Artillery (including one woman), another 88 went Armor, 107 selected Aviation (including 15 women), and 129 are now Engineers (including 12 women). Others branches selected: Military Intelligence 68 (21 women); Air Defense Artillery 50; Signal Corps 42 (five women); Transportation 25 (eight women); Adjutant General 23 (two men); Military Police 23 (eleven men); Ordnance 23 (two women); Quartermaster 23 (four men); Medical Service Corps 18 (six women); Chemical Corps 7 (one woman); and Finance six (two women). In addition, 12 (including five women) are en route to Medical School while five transferred to another service (three Marines; one Air Force; and one Navy) due to an existing connection with that service. Fully 38% of the class elected to commit to a full eight years of active duty in return for a guaranteed choice of graduate school, branch or first posting.
The gates to the stadium were opened at 6:30 in the morning, and by 7:30 the upper deck was filled with members of the Classes of 2011, 2012, and 2013, except for those involved as ushers and the Glee Club, already down on the field with the USMA Band. Meanwhile, the graduating Class of 2010 was arriving at the nearby Foley Indoor Athletic Center to make their last-minute preparations, including arranging themselves alphabetically within their Cadet companies for the receipt of their diplomas. The First Captain, Tyler Gordy, Army Athletic Association Award recipients, Lindsey Adao and Matthew Kyler, and 32 Honor graduates, led by Elizabeth Betterbed and Raymond Vetter, formed a separate group that would receive their diplomas directly from President Obama at the beginning of the ceremony, although he also would congratulate the other graduates receiving their diplomas from the Superintendent, LTG Hagenbeck ’71; Dean, BG Finnegan ’71; or Commandant, BG Rapp ’84.
Due to enhanced security requirements, most parents and other spectators experienced a 40-minute wait to enter post. At least one member of the civilian faculty, resplendent in doctoral robes, walked in from Fort Montgomery—and arrived well before many cars she passed along the way. At 8:15, the West Point Glee Club sang The Corps. A few minutes later, the USMA Band played a number of military songs, and at 8:25 the two groups joined in a rendition of the Alma Mater. At 9:30, the Adjutant General made various announcements regarding security, expected decorum, emergency evacuation procedures, and the all-important rules for youngsters who wished to obtain one of the Cadet hats tossed in the air later.
At 10:00, the presidential convoy arrived, and the Academy leadership, faculty and special guests, including GEN (Ret.) Eric Shinseki ’65, former Army Chief of Staff, and Ben Gilman, veteran Army Air Corps pilot in World War II and longtime (1973-2003) Congressional representative for the district that includes West Point. Minutes later, the President took his place, and the Superintendent made some welcoming remarks and asked the graduating class to give a standing ovation to their parents and families. The President was introduced and greeted with loud applause as he announced that, as a head of state, we was granting amnesty for all cadet punishments for offenses deemed minor. There was a time when amnesty applied to all offenses. By 1959, however, the superintendents of the various academies agreed to limit amnesty to minor offenses because so many heads of states were visiting.
The President noted the complexity of today’s military missions and proudly announced that the Class of 2010 had been exposed to more international experiences while cadets than any previous class in history and also had tied the overall record for academic scholarships received, including the two Rhodes Scholarships won by women this year—another first. He also noted that the Corps of Cadets truly represents America, with cadets from privilege and poverty, big cities and small towns, and adherents to all major religions of the world. He also was humbled by the fact that all of the members of the graduating class volunteered to attend West Point in a time of war, knowing that they would be sent in harm’s way after graduation. He cited First Captain Tyler Gordy, a veteran of the war in Iraq, for remaining behind after being wounded to help his fellow Soldiers. He also remembered the 78 graduates have given their lives for our freedom and security in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Recalling his earlier visit to West Point, he said that for many years our focus has been on Iraq, where we adapted, persisted and partnered with our counterparts there. Now we are poised to depart, leaving a combination of civilian and military advisors to continue to assist. We toppled the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and brought hope to the people there. Now we must make sure that their country succeeds. Unlike the terrorists, whose goal is to destroy, our goal is to build.
Our American military today have set a standard of service and sacrifice as great as any in our nation’s history. But the burden cannot fall on our Soldiers alone or on the shoulders of America alone. As we did in World War, we must build new partnerships and forge an international order to face the challenges of our times. Al Qaeda’s gross distortions of Islam will not go away soon, but they are small men on the wrong side of history.
The President then quoted Oliver Wendell Holmes regarding committing oneself to a course whose outcome is perhaps uncertain and warned, ”Cadets, a long hard road awaits you.” But when the end you are seeking seems uncertain, think back to West Point. Washington could not have foreseen 13 colonies becoming 50 great states. Grant could not have envisioned extending rights to men and women of all races. Eisenhower could not have imagined the fall of the Berlin Wall without a shot being fired. Your legacy will be a world more just.
At 11:00, all joined in singing The Corps prior to the diplomas being presented. As each graduate descended the platform, a member of the Class of 1960, the Class of 2010 50-Year Affiliate Class, congratulated each one and presented a set of gold second lieutenant bars engraved ’60 to ’10. Shortly before noon, the last diploma was presented, the oath of office was administered by the Commandant, the class was dismissed by the First Captain, and almost a thousand hats were thrown into the air and hundreds of wireless phone calls were made. The members Class of 2010, “Loyal ‘til the End,” are now second lieutenants.
Your humble servant, J. Phoenix, Esquire.
Please forward guest articles, comments and suggestions for future topics to JPhoenix@wpaog.org
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Photos of West Point Visit