How could anybody have good character if they are lying, cheating or stealing? This is a question that Class of 2023 Cadet Erika Rapp now often internalizes. While growing up it wasn’t emphasized much, however, at West Point, she said following the Cadet Honor Code respects not only the institution but also respects other individuals who are doing things the right way toward being leaders of character.
Rapp recently received high praise from several U.S. Military Academy leaders for her honesty over a correction mistake on a graded quiz in CH384, Organic Chemistry II. She obtained a 100% grade, although she got an answer incorrect.
The Life Science major from Whitmore Lake, Michigan, took the quiz Jan. 29 on reactions of aromatic compounds in Chemistry & Life Science assistant professor Lt. Col. Victor Jaffett’s class.
There were four questions on the quiz, including a five-point extra credit assignment, which she got correct. However, the question she got wrong on the quiz involved synthesis.
“We were given a starting molecule and a final molecule and told to give a series of intermediate reactions that would convert the starting material to the ending material,” Rapp said. “Apart from my first step, my other two steps were correct, but they were in the wrong order. Therefore, I should have gotten points off because the reactions would not have occurred in the order I put initially.”
Once Jaffett returned the graded quizzes and went over a few of the problems, Rapp realized her answer was incorrectly marked correct for the steps she mis-ordered.
Jaffett said he was impressed that Rapp did the right thing when she recognized, “That she was gaining an unfair advantage over her peers due to my mistake.”
“She knew that bringing this to my attention was going to lead to her possibly losing a couple of points on her quiz,” Jaffett said. “But it showed me that her integrity was more important.”
Jaffett has taught Rapp previously in General Chemistry I and Organic Chemistry I, and he said that she is an outstanding student who always shows up to class with a great attitude.
“She always has a genuine interest in understanding the class material and she is always willing to put in the hard work,” Jaffett said. “She is always willing to put herself out there to answer questions. In this instance, I was both very proud, but also not surprised by her actions. She is an authentic, honest and hard-working person who will be a great leader when she graduates.”
Rapp, a recruited Army West Point track and field athlete, said she is tough on herself when it comes to her grades as her goal is to go to medical school after West Point. But, at the same time, she doesn’t want to get something if she doesn’t deserve it and would have felt way too guilty about receiving a grade she didn’t deserve.
Conversely, she was still surprised at the positive responses she received afterward about her actions.
“I honestly did not think it would move past Lt. Col. Jaffett,” Rapp said. “When I started getting more emails from various officers and NCOs, I felt proud of myself, but also somewhat ashamed that I was getting recognized for something that everybody should be doing in the first place.”
Rapp said honesty and integrity are extremely important in leadership and they are what builds trust among individuals, but it also can put cadets in a predicament because they are trying to be high achievers.
“I think cadets can become torn in these types of situations because of the pressure to do well and have a good class rank,” Rapp said. “West Point is a competitive place and, sadly, this can promote cheating in a way. As much as honorable living is pushed here, doing the right thing is not always the norm as it should be.”
Despite all that with the pressure, she said the standard is the Cadet Honor Code. The goal after four years is to be a leader of character, plus the ability to be a good student that leads to be an excellent critical thinker as an officer.
“Leaders should not only be morally right, but also should have the mental skills to deal with changing environments and sudden problems,” Rapp said. “Fulfilling both of these is what will give other Soldiers the leader they deserve, which is why these topics are pressed onto us so much at West Point.”
Rapp also added that it is important to have a team around you with those same high-principled beliefs and share the same values to do what is right, especially during their years at West Point.
“It is very important to be surrounded by and work with people you can completely trust,” Rapp said. “Coming out of West Point, we will be in charge of lives and we need to know if we can trust what those around us say. If somebody cheats on assignments during school, how can you fully trust them to give you the correct information (as an officer)?
“It may seem like a big jump between the two, but constantly doing the wrong thing in less important situations could lead to doing the wrong thing in a much more important situation later on,” she added. “Trust is what holds teams together, so you need to be able to 100% trust those you are working with, or major problems can arise.”
When all put together, the 3rd Regimental Tactical Officer, Lt. Col. Kwenton Kuhlman, agrees with Rapp’s assessment as, “Developing the character of our future Army leaders is the most important thing we do at USMA. Character matters.”
Rapp, who is a part of Company B-3, was put in for an award for her actions by her Company B-3 Tactical Officer, Capt. Moises Ochoa, and worked with Kuhlman to get it done.
On March 5, Rapp received a 3rd Regiment coin for excellence from Kuhlman during an early morning regimental formation. Ochoa was happy that she received the award for her actions because she is what West Point is about in terms of developing character.
“West Point is all in on character development. It is what separates us from other higher-learning institutions,” Ochoa said. “I think honesty is our ability to be genuine with ourselves and those around us. Yet, it does require us to be vulnerable to the unknown, which in this case, the fear of a lower grade.
“Cadet Rapp’s ability to do what is right even when no one will notice it speaks a lot about who she is as a person and leader,” he added. “We seek honesty from our leaders, telling us when we are wrong and even admitting when they don’t know, which leads to self-improvement.”
Ochoa concluded that the traits of honesty and trust feeds into the cornerstone of the profession of arms.
“Without (them), our profession is nothing,” Ochoa said. “Small acts like this from Cadet Rapp builds on her reputation and character.”
Rapp currently is a team leader who is accountable for another cadet. She hopes to be a platoon sergeant next semester in her Cow (junior) year and a platoon leader during the first semester of her Firstie (senior) year with the aspiration of being a company commander during her leadership detail her final summer at West Point.
“At the end of the day, you want to be happy with yourself and what you accomplished,” Rapp said. “Work hard and be proud of what you can do on your own.”
Ochoa poignantly completed his thoughts on Rapp by expressing that not only is the Cadet Honor Code important to follow for all cadets, but that the Cadet Creed is also an important doctrine for them to respect during their cadet years and the ones to follow in the military.
“I think the Cadet Creed says it best, ‘I will live above the common level of life and have the courage to choose the harder right over the easier wrong.’ It should mean that they learn that the profession they are about to enter isn’t about them or their friends here,” Ochoa said. “It means that they will be serving and leading the sons, daughters, fathers and mothers of America, and they will deserve to have a leader who does the hard right.”
Ochoa concluded by saying, “That comes from doing the small things right here at West Point. The necessary foundations of, ‘A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal or tolerate those who do,’ are the basics that cannot and should not be negotiable.”