It has been almost two years since West Point felt the beating echoes of cheering families. The ecstatic screams of this year’s crowd underscored the magnitude of the occasion as cadet families weren’t allowed at West Point during last year’s 2020 Graduation Ceremony.
The ovation was symbolic of the profound moment when families finally expressed the long-awaited jubilation of watching the U.S. Military Academy’s Class of 2021 cadets live on Saturday at Michie Stadium as they tossed their hats skyward and commissioned into officership.
“The Superintendent, Lt. Gen. Darryl Williams, says he calls (the graduating class of 2021) ‘warriors.’ I’m going to call you second lieutenants. Is that OK with you?” Secretary of Defense Honorable Lloyd Austin III, USMA Class of 1975, asked. “This is a big deal, guys. I want your Secretary of Defense to be the first to call you lieutenant. The next time I see your Commander in Chief (President Joe Biden), I will report to him the great news that reinforcements are on their way.”
The 47-month journey at West Point had finally culminated for the 996 members of the Class of 2021 as they tossed their hats in the air, representing what it means to become not only leaders of character but to serve the nation.
“Class of 2021, congratulations. Over the past couple of weeks, as I’ve been reflecting on your time here, I realized how appropriate your class motto truly is, ‘Until the Battle is Won,’” Williams said. “That phrase; five simple words, capture and exemplify so much (of what your class represents): grit, tenacity, overcoming challenge and adversity and a never quit attitude. Your class has embodied those attributes over the past four years, but especially this past year as you led the Corps through the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
With the COVID-19 restrictions compelling cadets to remain in West Point and barring family from entry throughout the academic year, 2nd Lt. Tyler W. Copper often fell into deep self-reflection and wondered if he was competent enough to lead the nation adequately when the opportunity presented itself.
“It’s been four years of hard work, trials and tribulations, four years of challenging yourself, failing, wondering if you’re good enough and then rising up to the occasion and eventually coming out successful,” Cooper said. “Just to finally have everything come full circle is incredible, and I’m really appreciative of this moment.”
The four-year journey to reach this point was a humbling experience for 2nd Lt. Daniel Mazzie as he reflected to his family the obstacles he overcame to reach the end of his tenure at West Point.
“I learned about myself at the academy. I learned a great deal about resilience and what it truly means to be mentally strong,” Mazzie said. “Apart from my supportive younger brother (who is currently attending as a plebe), I now have many brothers and sisters who I care for and have formed lifelong friendships with. Even though I’m overjoyed, it’s hard to watch as we part ways.”
This year’s graduating class represents 80% out of 1,239 cadets who entered West Point four years ago. Also, 350 cadets in this class have at least one parent or family member who served or is still serving in the Armed Services.
For Col. Gregory Boylan, the executive officer to the Superintendent, ‘surreal’ and ‘heartfelt’ were the best words to describe watching his son 2nd Lt. Tully Boylan branch infantry and graduate from West Point as he did 27 years ago.
“We have encouraged all of our children to pursue the paths of their choice, and we have watched with pride as each has done just that, and now my son, a third-generation West Pointer graduate today,” Boylan said.
After the graduation ceremony, the new officers spread throughout the academy to officially be pinned their second lieutenant bars during pinning ceremonies. Traditionally, a valued mentor, family member who has served or is still serving is tasked with the honor of commissioning the cadet into officership. Boylan aptly awarded his son with the bars of a second lieutenant.
“I feel a tremendous pride, of course — both in his decision to serve his country and in his choice of West Point as the path by which to do it,” Boylan said. “But really, as I have watched my son grow at West Point, I have felt my own love for and faith in the academy deepen significantly. It is one thing to know, understand and be a part of what the academy does day in and day out, but it is another thing entirely to see all that the academy strives to develop in these young men and women become manifest in your children.”