WEST POINT, N.Y. -- Upon the order of "dismissed" from First Captain David Bindon, the cadets in the U.S. Military Academy's Class of 2019 tossed their hats into the air, casting them aside as they began the next phase of their lives.
The white hats, gray uniforms and white pants are officially a thing of the past as the class leaves West Point behind to begin their careers as officers in the Army. Their cadet rank has been replaced by the bars of a second lieutenant and they will set forth to lead Soldiers throughout the world."America's parents have given you our most precious possession, our sons and daughters, and they ask of you only one thing - lead them well," said Vice President Mike Pence, who served as the commencement speaker. "You have learned the habits of heroes and leaders. Now, you are going to join the fight. Men and women of West Point, no matter where you're deployed, you will be the vanguard of freedom and you know that the Soldier does not bear the sword in vain. The work you do has never been more important."Saturday marked the conclusion of the 47-month journey at West Point for the 987 members of the Class of 2019 as they graduated from the academy and joined the Long Gray Line of West Point graduates."These last few years were the most difficult four years I have had, but the most rewarding. I met some of the best people I have ever met in my life and I was able to make amazing connections I wouldn't have made anywhere else," said 2nd Lt. Cassandra Mundekis, who will serve as a military intelligence officer at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. "Walking across the stage was probably one of the best parts of my life. It was bittersweet because I really love this place but rewarding because I knew I had put the work in and it's time to move on to my job."Starting with Reception Day on July 1, 2015, the cadets in the class have spent the last four years learning to be the next generation of leaders for the United States Army. Their journey took them from Beast Barracks where they first learned how to be Soldiers through challenging classes, grueling physical fitness tests and yearly summer training that shaped them into leaders.The members of the Class of 2019 will serve in every branch of the Army and will lead Soldiers at Army installations throughout the world as they begin their service commitment."You all have completed and excelled at the most challenging leader development experience there is," Lt. Gen. Darryl A. Williams, West Point superintendent, said. "You should be very proud, but today the real work begins ... Today, you become a member of the long and proud legacy of men and women who, when history demanded it, answered the call to duty to stand in the gap, to protect and defend this great United States of America."The class includes cadets from all 50 states as well as 10 international cadets who will return to serve in their nation's army. After the presentation of diplomas to the class, they were officially sworn in as second lieutenants by Commandant of Cadets Maj. Gen. Steve Gilland."My father is in the military," 2nd Lt. William Smith, who will serve as an engineer officer at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, said of why he chose to attend West Point. "He has been a lifelong officer. He introduced me to the idea and I always thought I wanted to serve. West Point seemed like the best way to do that. Part of me felt indebted to the Army because of all they've given my family."Following the graduation ceremony, the cadets dispersed throughout the academy to have pinning ceremonies where they received their second lieutenant bars for the first time. The honor of pinning the bars on the new graduate is traditionally awarded to a family member who has served or a mentor from their time at West Point."I think there are definitely going to be some tears," Smith said of seeing the bars on his shoulder for the first time. "There is a lot of hard work that has gone into earning those bars."