By Brandon OConnorDecember 16, 2019
Hail, Alma Mater dear // To us be ever near // Help us thy motto bear // Through all the years.
After the clock struck zero at the end of the 120th Army-Navy Game, players from both teams walked toward the Corps of Cadets seated in the stands and the West Point Band began to play.
Throughout the four quarters of the game, players from the U.S. Military Academy and the U.S. Naval Academy are the fiercest of rivals. Every inch is fought for on the field, but once the clock runs out, the competitors once again become brothers in arms.
Win or lose, first or second, after the Army-Navy Game you sing.
Let Duty be well performed // Honor be e'er untarned // Country be ever armed // West Point, by thee.
For Kelvin Hopkins Jr. and Jaxson Deaton and their fellow firsties (seniors) on the Army football team, the singing of the alma mater marked the official end to their career as players. Standing alongside their teammates and before the rest of the Corps of Cadets, tears ran down their cheeks as they sang the alma mater.
To the victor goes the spoils and following the Army-Navy Game that means the chance to sing your alma mater second. After winning three years in a row, Saturday marked the first time any current Army cadet had to sing first.
As the final verse of the alma mater rang through the stadium, and despite the score, the players raised their helmets high and shouted "Beat Navy" before turning and walking across the field to join the Navy midshipmen as they sang Navy Blue and Gold, the academy's alma mater.
It is a moment of solidarity between rivals who upon graduation will become compatriots fighting side-by-side to protect the United States and its freedom with the same tenacity with which they once fought against each other on the gridiron.
"To be able to share that moment after competing with them and going as hard as you can, to just kind of look at each other and have that sense of respect for their school, for their life day to day is a sobering moment," Hopkins said.
Guide us, thine own, aright // Teach us by day, by night // To keep thine honor bright // For thee to fight.
The moment when the team and the corps sing the alma mater after the game may be the most iconic performance of the song, but for more than a century since the song was written it has been about much more than football.
The verses of the alma mater echo through the decades telling the stories of those who have come before and those soon arriving at their rockbound highland home.
Each West Point graduate from the first two in 1802 to the current cadets who will join their ranks in the coming years are tied together by the Long Gray Line. The words of the alma mater honor those graduates, the Corps of Cadets and the sacrifices they are willing to make and the commitment they have made to Duty, Honor, Country by choosing to attend West Point.
"To me, the alma mater is about a community of individuals that crosses generations, backgrounds, and geographies grounded in a common purpose as expressed in our mission," Brig. Gen. Cindy R. Jebb, USMA Class of 1982 and Dean of the Academic Board, said. "The beauty of West Point is that we get to live, train and learn together, thereby making us all stronger as individuals and teams, and as an institution. That strength in community continues along the Long Gray Line, with the words of the alma mater as our common foundation to be 'ever near' to one another and our institution across time and distance."
When we depart from thee // Serving on land or sea // May we stand loyal be // West Point, to thee.
On Reception Day at the academy, new cadets sign their first oath to the academy and then before the start of their cow (junior) year they affirm their commitment to serve and protect, no matter the cost that may be required.
"The alma mater is a personification of who we are as an institution and of what the Long Gray Line means," Class of 2021 Cadet Andrew Scott said. "It's something that easily explains to someone on the outside what West Point means, and it is a representation of the academy. It really just shows that West Point is more than just another institution. We take things to a different level here and it exemplifies what we go through and then what we do after the academy."
For some that sacrifice will be ultimate, but each graduate will make at least some small sacrifice for their country as they serve the Army as officers and command Soldiers in the crucible of ground combat. Sacrifice big or small, by upholding the oath they have taken and living by the honor code of the academy, graduates may see the words of the alma mater come true and live a life that was "well done."
And when our work is done // Our course on earth is run // May it be said, "Well done" // Be thou at peace."
When the words of the alma mater are sung, graduates and cadets stand at attention in reverence of the words and the meaning and weight they carry no matter if they are standing on the football field signing first or second, holding their diplomas on graduation day or returning to West Point as an Old Grad.
"Singing that alma mater and resonating with all those people who've come before you and walked in your shoes is something special, and it's what gives you pride when you sing it," Hopkins said.
E'er may that line of gray // Increase from day to day // Live, serve, and die, we pray // West Point, for thee.