It is a rite of passage for Firsties to mark hitting their final 100 days at the U.S. Military Academy with a break to celebrate their exploits during 100th Night Weekend.
Even though it is officially around 70 days until graduation this year, the cadets of the Class of 2021 enjoyed their triumphant moment Friday and Saturday with the annual banquet and 100th Night Show.
The weekend commenced Friday with the banquet at the Cadet Mess Hall. Before the guest speaker hit the stage, Class of 2021 Cadet and Class President Katarina Christianson addressed her classmates about their story of hitting the last 100 days while mentioning the lessons they learned in the first 100 days that “come back to echo and inspire the way ahead.”
While she vividly described driving the seven curvy miles around Storm King Mountain to anxiously enter Thayer Gate on R-Day, she also depicted a moment during Cadet Basic Training with her Beast company when her tactical officer showed a short video by TEDx Talks speaker, Drew Dudley, called, “Everyday Leadership (The Lollipop Moment).”
The heart of the story was of a young woman, a freshman in line with her parents for class registration, who was apprehensive and doubted she wanted to stay at the university in those brief jittery moments most people have when they begin a new journey. At the time while watching, the thought, Christianson said, was “I hope the lessons from this (story) will guide our way forward for the remainder of our story.”
So, Dudley, who was carrying and handing out lollipops, explains in the video about the interaction with the woman as he turned to a young man in front of her and said, “You need to give a lollipop to this beautiful woman next you.” The guy turned red-faced but offered his lollipop to the woman. Dudley made a few humorous remarks, Christianson explained, among the group in this exchange, but in that instance, he changed the woman’s life forever as she knew everything was going to be OK.
Christianson said four years later that same young woman, now graduated, bumped into Dudley again to tell him about how he greatly impacted her life with that single moment. The young man he asked to hand her the lollipop was now going to be her husband, but Dudley had no recollection about the day whatsoever.
“This interaction was a life-altering moment for this young woman,” Christianson said. “She made a monumental decision to continue with college and she met the love of her life … because of a moment that lasted less than a minute.”
Christianson said that Dudley now makes it his life’s mission to tell that story, the ‘lollipop moment,’ because of the impact someone can make on another person without knowing it. In turn, Christianson asked her classmates this one question, “Have you ever had a lollipop moment?”
“Has someone (at West Point) impacted your life so greatly, but you haven’t mustered up the words to say so,” Christianson said. “True leadership is seen most clearly in the small moments throughout the day. It is about behaving in a way that makes the life of another person around you better than before you arrived. It is about creating lollipop moments and letting people know when those lollipop moments happen.”
She said it can certainly be eye-opening and transformative to think that they can make a big impact on an individual while not even knowing it, but it is important to recognize it as their story nears its final chapter as the Class of 2021 will graduate in two months.
“I would encourage all of us in every moment for our next 100 days to remember that words are powerful and that the best part about West Point, the best part about our class, is people having these lollipop moments every day, and sometimes not even knowing their impact,” Christianson said. “As our last few months turn into weeks to days to hours, I would ask that we remember that all too often we let these moments slip by and that we should stop to tell those who have impacted our lives how much they mean to us and to always remember that even the smallest interactions can change the course of someone else’s life.”
Crosby champions the “Leaders of Your Generation”
After her inspirational opening speech, Christianson gave way to the night’s guest speaker, Command Sgt. Maj. Michael A. Crosby, command sergeant major for U.S. Army Futures Command.
Crosby spoke to the cadets about their hard work and amazing accomplishments as they sprint toward, “becoming second lieutenants and the dawn of the next phase transition into leaders, mentors and professionals charged with taking the Army into the future.”
Crosby summarized that over his 32 years of Army experience, he has seen the world change from the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War to the “generation defining moment” of Sept. 11, 2001, that began the Global War on Terrorism. He also reflected on the last year where the global pandemic has killed more than a half a million Americans.
“Throughout it all, our Army has stayed strong, resilient and adaptive to every-changing environment,” Crosby said. “At home and abroad, this is in no small measure due to the strength, the character, resiliency and leadership of our people, and you will be at the forefront of that effort very soon.”
At the same time, he gave the Class of 2021 cadets praise for their mettle and resilience through the last year, having to be flexible in a pandemic environment while trying to complete their military and academic education.
“You have demonstrated the agility and the resourcefulness and managed to adapt to an uncertain future,” Crosby said. “Leading the Corps of Cadets in a COVID-era is no small feat. You not only have persevered through an uncertain summer training cycle in 2020, but you have led the Corps through a rigorous academic year showcasing your ability to preserve in unprecedented times.”
Crosby mentioned they enter the Army shaped by the pandemic of the last year and through the adept words of their class motto he said, “you undoubtedly will continue to set the pace to meet our future challenges.”
“‘Until the Battle is Won,’ your class motto, exemplifies the commitment and resilience to success and victory to all that you have done,” Crosby said. “You’ve been preparing for this milestone since the first day you walked onto the hallowed grounds of West Point and marched on The Plain less than 12 hours later. You assimilated into one of our country’s most enduring traditions — becoming part of the Long Gray Line.”
Crosby spoke to them about the importance of being good platoon leaders at the onset of their careers as he detailed his through the first Gulf War and the leaders who impacted his career. He also talked about the impact the platoon sergeant will play and the trust that should be built as a “key ingredient to your success.”
As the cadets enter a modernizing Army that is technologically advanced, one that is “faster, more precise and more agile to defeat any potential adversary on any battlefield,” Crosby said, their intelligence and “ideas, initiatives and practical experience will be a part of a continued improvement for our Soldiers.”
“You are trained, ready and prepared to become leaders of your generation,” Crosby concluded. “Servants to our nation and powerful examples of character that the world will observe.”
The 100th Night Show
After a night of inspiring words at the banquet, the cadets transitioned into a night of silliness around their experiences rolled into one production on Saturday at Eisenhower Hall Theatre.
The 100th Night Show has been a tradition at West Point since 1871, which allows the Firsties to take a humorous look at their class through their four years at the academy. The cadets take a lighthearted poke at West Point, its cultural idiosyncrasies and various events, circumstances and people who shaped their class. Most of it is based in truth, some exaggerated, but all of it offered in the name of humor and entertainment.
This year’s show was titled “100 70 Days until Graduation: The Commissioning Factory,” and was written by Class of 2021 Cadet Joseph Simmons and directed by Class of 2021 Cadet Daniel Alvarado.
The origin of the script started during the quarantine last spring break, but the cast and crew didn’t fully start preparing for the show until January.
“We wanted to start as early as Thanksgiving, but because of how hectic things have been, we were not able to get the word out effectively until the end of January,” Alvarado said. “That meant we didn’t start rehearsals until Feb. 15.”
Alvarado said the 100th Night Show followed the senior class’s basic formula of going through its experiences over the last four years while the show was loosely based around “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”
The premise, Alvarado and Simmons explain, is the cadets receive ‘golden commissions’ into West Point as the first captain brings the cast members from room to room, which signifies each scene, with the mess hall staff as Oompa Loompas and a couple of pre-recorded sections to simulate Teams’ meetings over the quarantine.
Simmons said the original script he wrote, outside of one part that was taken out, was pretty much on par with the final script. The show included eight scenes with nine musical numbers.
“Writing (the script) came pretty easy,” Simmons, who wrote all the lines and placed the songs within the script, said. “I wrote when I was inspired, and I had a general structure to follow so it was not hard. I’m proud that the cast took my script and ran fleshing out the characters and giving them more personality.”
What made Simmons most proud of the show was the positive feedback it received afterward.
“People thought the script was funny, which makes me really glad,” Simmons said. “I am extremely happy with the results. The classmates I spoke to enjoyed it, the crowd laughed when the cast said their jokes and even most of the Jodel posts were positive.”
Alvarado, who worked closely with Simmons on character development and how each scene would look, had the balancing act between telling the cast precisely what he wanted to giving them enough room to improvise, especially with the time crunch of learning the script. The biggest struggle, he said, was keeping accountability throughout within the COVID-19 environment.
“For the first two weeks, one of our leads was rehearsing virtually, which does not work well, and our music director/choreographer was leading rehearsals for the singing portions of the show online as well, which works even worse,” Alvarado said.
However, even with the expeditious pace and virtual setbacks, Alvarado was proud of how the cast came together and successfully pulled off the venture.
“To see all of my cast having fun with their roles, thoroughly enjoying the experience, it was great even though it was a massive burden on them time-wise,” Alvarado said. “Getting to make connections with classmates I hadn’t met yet and helping them meet new people as well was awesome. That rarely happens in this environment, so I was glad to give them that chance.”
Like Simmons, Alvarado was pleased with the results of the show and the Jodel reviews he scanned immediately afterward.
“Some jokes were landing with the audience that I had forgotten entirely were jokes,” Alvarado said. “It seems like most people had fun, which was entirely the goal … there is a charm in seeing classmates, people you know, on stage doing their best, and that is what we were striving for. I am overjoyed that I could raise everyone’s spirits, even just for a little bit. I will forever be thankful that I can call these people my classmates.”
As for putting a big bow tie on the weekend, Alvarado and Simmons were happy to be allowed some free time after the 100th Night Weekend events.
“The weekend was the best that it could be,” Alvarado said. “The fact we got (off-post privileges) was a big win, in my opinion, even though it was largely restricted. I got some food with friends and bought some spring clothes.”
Simmons added, “The weekend was honestly really nice despite COVID. Outside of the show and banquet, various bars on post were open just to Firsties this weekend and we were allowed to take our cars off post for a bit on Sunday. (With that thought), I still have hope that we will be able to take a pass by the end of the school year and things will get a little closer to normal.”