Under the grey skies of West Point today, the "Long Grey Line," made up of a diverse and impressive group of graduating cadets, said goodbye to academic studies and turned their sights toward the business of soldiering.
"Four years ago you dropped your son or daughter off on these grounds with no shortage of pride, as well as anxiety, about the famed rigors of the U.S. Military Academy, about the known dangers that come with the profession of arms at this time. said Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who delivered the commencement address.
"That pride was well founded, the anxiety hopefully at least partially relieved," he added. "And I thank you for everything you have done to make them the outstanding young people they are," he added.
Outstanding may be an understatement.
The class includes eight Rotary Ambassadorial Scholars, a Gates Cambridge Scholar, a Rhodes Scholar and two East/West Center Fellows. In addition, 28 members of the graduating class earned recognition as Honor Graduates. The award reflects overall excellence in cadet performance, including academic, military and physical.
This year 50 Superintendent's Awards for Excellence were presented to the cadets in the top 5 percent of the class. Another 150 cadets were earned the Superintendent's Award for Achievement, and 172 received recognition for earning a GPA of 3.67.
The class itself is a picture of diversity.
Of the 970 cadets, 144 are women, 63 African Americans, 62 Asian/Pacific Islanders, 74 Hispanics and 15 Native Americans. The majority of the class, which also includes 17 foreign students, were commissioned second lieutenants.
The 17 students represent Afghanistan, Belize, Brunei, Bulgaria, Chad, Jamaica, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Maldives, Republic of Korea, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand and Tunisia, and will return to their nations for service.
These graduating cadets represent 78 percent of the cadets who entered West Point in the fall of 2004.
Gates, who lauded the cadets for their courage, commitment and "patriotism of the highest order," also realized the secondary mission of the day. No matter the caliber of the cadets, the after-commencement party is a key tradition. But there was one important piece of business to take care of first.
"To the graduating class of 2009, congratulations!" he said. "Let me dispense with the easy and fun part first, which is, on behalf of our commander in chief, to grant full amnesty for any minor conduct offenses.
"I will leave the definition of "minor" to the superintendent," he chuckled.
The new soldiers will now move on to their first assignments that will make them a part of every unit from infantry to aviation.
When the ceremony concluded Gates pinned second lieutenant's bars on more than a dozen newly minted Army junior officers.
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
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