The US Military Academy, West Point, graduated a class of 996 cadets who became second lieutenants in the Army on Saturday as they tossed their white caps in the air in celebration.
And Lloyd J. Austin III, the nation’s secretary of defense and their commencement speaker, declared the privilege of being the first to address them by their new rank.
“The next time I see your commander in chief, I’m going to tell him I have some very good news,” Austin said. “Reinforcements are on the way.”
Saturday also was a homecoming for Austin, who graduated from West Point himself in 1975.
Austin assured the class of 2021 they have been well prepared for the world they are entering — a world still recovering from a pandemic and battered by everything from terrorism to cybersecurity threats.
“Lieutenants, you are ready,” Austin said. “Yes, you are graduating in extraordinary circumstances. But extraordinary circumstances are what the U.S. Army does.”
Austin said he still draws on the values he learned at West Point.
“I still believe that leadership demands character,” Austin said. “Some of you will have to make life and death decisions. You are now prepared to make those decisions. You are ready to be leaders.”
The West Point Class of 2021 includes a dozen members from the middle and lower Hudson Valley region.
They are Mika Andrews of Dobbs Ferry, Stephanie Dudgeon of Chester, Thomas Fritsch Jr. of New Rochelle, Kathleen Newman of Katonah, Esther Roman of Poughquag, Duncan Russell of Brewster, August St. Louis of New City, Madison Teague of Cornwall-on-Hudson, Joshua Zock of Montgomery, and Tully Boylan, Madeleine Gist and Lexi West, all from Highland Falls.
Because of restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, cadets were only able to invite six guests to Michie Stadium to see them graduate. Usually, they can have 10. But their cheers still filled the stadium just like they do in years when it is packed to the rafters.
Most of the new second lieutenants were eager to get to those family members after the ceremony was over and didn’t have a lot of time to talk about their futures on Saturday.
“I’m excited, I’m happy,” was about all new second lieutenant Joseph Simmons of Orlando, Florida, could think to say when approached after the ceremony. He’s headed to Fort Sill, an Army post in Oklahoma, where he will learn more skills for his chosen Army branch, air defense.
Austin predicted some event on the world stage that none of those present Saturday can anticipate will affect the lives of these new Army soldiers, and he urged them to be ready for it.
“We don’t get to choose our times, but we do get to shape our times,” Austin said.
“Lieutenants, your hour will come, when the eyes of the nation will turn again to the men and women of West Point.”
Then he closed by adding the Class of 2021’s motto: “Until the battle is won.”
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