The night before a class graduates from the U.S. Military Academy is a time of celebration.
The members of the class typically come together along with their families to share one final dinner in the cadet mess hall during the graduation banquet and prepare for the conclusion of their cadet careers the next day. This year, the Class of 2020 was able to hold a banquet Friday evening, but it was in a more subdued form as—much like Saturday’s graduation ceremony—it was closed to families and friends because of social distancing guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The few guests at the banquet included Secretary of the Army Ryan D. McCarthy and Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. James C. McConville, Class of 1981, who both also attended Saturday’s graduation ceremony.
Dressed in their Army Combat Uniforms with second lieutenant bars on their chests, the members of the class sat socially distanced throughout the mess hall, and took the time to celebrate all they have accomplished despite the difficult circumstances of their final semester. They were, as class president 2nd Lt. Joshua Phillips pointed out, the class to finally break Navy’s winning streak in the annual Army Navy Game. The 1,113 members of the class also found success in the classroom with 38 members receiving graduate scholarships including First Captain 2nd Lt. Daine Van de Wall who was named a Rhodes Scholar.
“Four years ago, we all accepted appointments to the United States Military Academy not knowing what to expect,” Phillips said. “Some of us were excited, others were nervous, but we all shared one common goal and that is to be the best version of ourselves so that we could serve our country.”
During his remarks, Phillips also announced that the class leadership had decided to add two additional members to the class. Following the results of a unanimous vote of the class officers, Phillips announced that West Point Command Sgt. Maj. Jack Love, who has become known for his quote “I didn't graduate from West Point, but I'm a West Pointer,” and 2nd regiment executive officer Maj. Nicole Kruse were being added as honorary members of the Class of 2020.
Phillips was then followed at the podium by McConville who served as the guest speaker. He spoke to the class of the mantel they now take up as young officers and West Point graduates. As they begin their careers, “much will be expected,” of them he said because they have graduated from West Point.
“Carry that mantle with pride, but humility,” McConville said. “You're going to take the skills that you learned here, and you'll have the privilege of leading America's finest men and women. Extraordinary young people who have raised their right hand and—like you—said, ‘send me.’ You will be leading extraordinary people in extraordinary times.”
They Class of 2020 enters the Army at a challenging time, McConville said, as the pandemic continues to rage and they face a “great power competition” on the world stage. To face those challenges, he called on them to remember the principles of people first and winning matters. Those will require them to take care of their Soldiers and their Soldiers’ families, while carrying the attitude that when they deploy or have a task they must win because, “there's no second place or honorable mention in combat.”