Times were very different when Anne Macdonald graduated high school in 1975.One could buy a new Ford Mustang II for about $4,000 and run it for 44 cents a gallon, but not everybody could afford to because the average yearly income was just a little over $14,000.Hair styles, clothing, politics, music and even social issues were all different, too. But maybe not the hopes and dreams of a young lady named Anne Fields, who had graduated Fort Knox High School in May of that year and was preparing to enter the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York.“I loved Fort Knox, and I loved being a student at Fort Knox,” said Macdonald. “It was a small community. We knew everyone. It was safe; you could be out at night. There was an expectation that at 5 o’clock the cannon was going to go off, and we all stood at attention and rendered honors to the nation.”The retired brigadier general lives with her husband John in the United Arab Emirates these days — a long way from those high school days in Central Kentucky. Her memories at the Army post remain fresh, though.“It really was an idyllic time, and things for me seemed to center around high school,” said Macdonald. “Everything was high school activities: a football game, a basketball game, a concert, a play — whatever it was, it all seemed to revolve around high school, at least for me.”Macdonald said she lucked out as a youth. Unlike many kids’ parents, her parents moved to the post on the last part of her freshman year and remained throughout her high school years.“That stability, that safe wonderful supportive environment, was just so encouraging,” said Macdonald. “We had great guidance counselors and teachers, and fabulous after-school programs; fabulous opportunities.”Macdonald said it was one particular moment, however, which set her on a glide path that would put her in the national spotlight, even if she didn’t want the attention.“I remember coming home to one of my friends’ house whose father was a squadron commander, and he had said to my friend and myself, ‘They have the first women going through flight school,’” said Macdonald. “At the time, it was an interesting fact. I didn’t jump up and down — I might have responded to be polite — but little did I know that very casual conversation would plant a seed.”Macdonald said she has since taken from that seemingly insignificant moment two nuggets of truth she shares with others.“Sometimes we make comments to people, and we don’t know what impact we have on them, good or bad,” said Macdonald. “Two: we don’t really know what’s going on in somebody else’s world.”The next glide-path moment came in the form of a recruiter from West Point visiting the school to look for potential female cadets. Women hadn’t ever gone to West Point before.“The guidance counselors, who were fabulous, recommended two of us,” said Macdonald. “My first response was, ‘I’m not sure I can do it.’ Then it became easier. I was like, ‘Okay, just fill the application out. Just do it’—“So she did.They accepted her.“I had come back from spring break, and my sisters were in the front yard. They said the Kentucky governor had called and that I had been accepted to West Point,” said Macdonald. “My first response was, ‘Oh No!’“Here is someone who I thought it just wouldn’t happen, and the next thing I knew I had been accepted to go to West Point. In very short order, I had to get my focus.”She later realized she had a big obstacle standing in her way that she would have to surmount prior to going.“When people say to me, ‘What advice would you give seniors?’ scholar-athlete comes to mind,” she said. “At the time, I know I did well academically. I know I had some leadership opportunities in the school; I was very active in a number of things —“… but if I had been a better athlete, it really would have served me well. When I went to West Point, it is individual, but it was also very much, ‘Cooperate and graduate. Work together as a team.”She had never failed before, so when she entered the academy she felt confident in her abilities, having amassed a lot of credentials in preparation for being among the first women in history to get this opportunity.“It was pretty humbling because everybody else had all that and more,” she said. “With the physical aspects, I fell out of a run. It’s not just that you fall out, but it’s so visible. I had to do some serious soul searching.”Adding to the heightened stress was a small army of journalists who followed the female cadets around for the next four years and beyond.“From Day 1, there was press who wanted to take pictures and interview us, and they were everywhere,” said Macdonald. “We were trying to be a team. All of a sudden, women were getting pulled out to be interviewed, or for pictures. We learned really quickly that if you want to separate yourself from your classmates, go do an interview. So we would avoid them at all costs.”Macdonald said there are so many life lessons she has learned from those experiences and since that she would share with her former self if she could — lessons that remain just as relevant today as they were then.“You’re going to fail. When you do, you have a choice. You can either fall back, or fall forward. Fall forward, and when you do, get back up and keep going.“Do the right thing, even when no one’s looking. That’s discipline,” she continued. “Always give your best so you can apply whatever you can when you can.“Treat people with dignity and respect. Be thoughtful, be kind; and if you can’t, say nothing. Sometimes saying nothing doesn’t work, either, so be ready to stand up.“Have confidence, but know your limitations.“Work hard, but enjoy playtime so you can get the rest you need.“The last thing I would say is, ‘Be positive. So much can be done with a positive attitude, just that optimistic way of looking at things.”She said her determination to succeed and to remain optimistic in each experience was always being tested at West Point.“As an unwanted minority at West Point — the first class with women — it was unbelievably tough. There was this attitude that they were going to drum the women out,” said Macdonald. “Ten percent thought we were great and were super supportive. Ten percent were mean as hornets, but you knew where they were coming from. It was that 80% in the center who you really didn’t know.“It’s really tough not feeling like you’re worth something, and that you have value. That was super difficult for me.”By the time the Class of 1980 made it to the stage, the 119 women who started at West Point had dwindled to 62. Macdonald stood among them.After graduating, she continued to make military history throughout her 31-year aviation career, including being the second woman from her class to reach a general officer rank, as well as the first woman ever to lead an Army combat brigade.Now as president of the Army Women’s Foundation, she looks for ways to encourage other women to succeed, especially those in high school.“Remember that institutions like West Point and Fort Knox High School want us to be successful and graduate,” Macdonald said. “They want us to be men and women and leaders of character for the future of our nation.”