West Point seniors celebrate cadet milestone between volleyball contests
August 29, 2012
WEST POINT, N.Y. (Aug. 29, 2012) -- Class of 2013 Cadets Francine Vasquez and Ariana Mankus barely had the class rings on before they had to remove them for competition.
Wedged in between two matches Aug. 24, the two senior co-captains on the Army Women's Volleyball Team were able to join their classmates at Trophy Point and receive their class rings.
They even had time to celebrate the milestone afterward for a short spell with family and friends before dashing off to the barracks to change uniforms for the evening's contest against Indiana University.
"We were really worried about not having that moment with our class so we were happy to share that," Vasquez said. "The ring means so much to all of us. It's a big accomplishment, so we were grateful to share it with our classmates."
The ring itself signifies both the accomplishments and challenges over the past three years and even the ones still to come, Vasquez said.
"The ring is also a great symbol of the unity within the Long Gray Line and that connection we have with those who have gone before me," she said.
Mankus said in years past the team had this weekend off, but being able to participate in the ring ceremony while hosting and competing in a pre-season tournament was special.
"Not only did my family get to see me get my ring, but they get to see me play also," Mankus said.
While the ring only weighs a couple ounces, it is said the weight of responsibility that comes with it is much greater.
"It's a huge milestone in our cadet careers because it means that as seniors we are now leading the Corps of Cadets," Mankus said. "A lot of people might not know how significant a role this is, but as seniors, you are essentially leading the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. You are in charge and the ring kind of puts that in perspective for us."
Vasquez received some leadership training this summer when she shadowed a second lieutenant in the 212th Fires Brigade at Fort Bliss, Texas, during a Cadet Troop Leader Training program.
"I was with an ordnance company and learned a lot about Soldiers and the responsibilities of making sure their well-being is cared for; it was a great learning experience," Vasquez said.
Vasquez now serves as the activities officer for Company B-3 and will plan and coordinate spirit activities and company events throughout the academic year. Mankus served as Cadet Basic Training regiment command sergeant major during the first detail, and is now on the brigade staff in charge of the student-athlete advisory committee.
"The summer leadership experience was phenomenal and I worked with a lot of great people," Mankus said. "I couldn't have asked for better people to work with; it's something I'm glad I did and would do it again. This semester I knew my focus was on volleyball because it was really important for me to be a leader on this team. Also, I love working with athletes and sports in general. So, my dream job since plebe year was actually the brigade SAAC position. I get to work with all the team captains and all the different corps squad teams. I'm already enjoying it and it barely has gotten started."
The seniors competed again Aug. 25, but were able to enjoy the banquet with their families. Vasquez was joined by her parents and a former high school teacher, and Mankus celebrated with her parents, three older sisters and an aunt and uncle.
"It's a more formal event but I'll have fun with my family there," Mankus said. "After that, I'll just relax, and honestly, I'm looking forward to that."
Anthony Vasquez travels frequently from southern California to West Point to see his daughter compete and attend special functions. He got to do both last weekend.
"It's an honor just to see her here at West Point with so many great people and for her to have this opportunity," he said. The Ring Ceremony, just like R-Day and A-Day, are all pretty emotional to me; I don't know how I'm going to handle graduation."
As a parent, he said the time has past quickly since they brought her to the academy on Reception Day in 2009. He'll miss the visits to West Point and the people he's met here.
"We love seeing her compete and play on this team," he said. "We are so thankful that the seniors got to compete today and attend the ceremony; it was so awesome that the coach made this happen and gave them the opportunity to be with their class."
He said there's a lot of sacrifice involved for the cadet-athletes--especially when the team is on the road frequently--but the institutional support is phenomenal.
"The cadets are supported in every way--academically, leadership, the training and conditioning; if there's any issue they need help with someone outstanding is always there to help," he said.