Dr. Mae C. Jemison was recognized for her achievements as a NASA astronaut and educator, among other accomplishments, in being chosen the 2021 Sylvanus Thayer Award recipient. Jemison received the award during a ceremony Oct. 7, which included a parade (above) on The Plain by the Corps of Cadets in her honor. The Thayer Award, established in 1958, is awarded annually to an outstanding U.S. citizen whose services and accomplishments in the nation’s interest exemplify personal devotion to the ideas expressed in the West Point motto, “Duty, Honor, Country.” Previous recipients include presidents Ronald Reagan, Dwight D. Eisenhower and George H.W. Bush as well as former astronaut Neil A. Armstrong.	                            (Photo by Delancey Pryor III/PV)
1 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Dr. Mae C. Jemison was recognized for her achievements as a NASA astronaut and educator, among other accomplishments, in being chosen the 2021 Sylvanus Thayer Award recipient. Jemison received the award during a ceremony Oct. 7, which included a parade (above) on The Plain by the Corps of Cadets in her honor. The Thayer Award, established in 1958, is awarded annually to an outstanding U.S. citizen whose services and accomplishments in the nation’s interest exemplify personal devotion to the ideas expressed in the West Point motto, “Duty, Honor, Country.” Previous recipients include presidents Ronald Reagan, Dwight D. Eisenhower and George H.W. Bush as well as former astronaut Neil A. Armstrong. (Photo by Delancey Pryor III/PV) (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL
Mae C. Jemison, the 2021 Thayer Award recipient, accepts the Thayer Award from Superintendent Lt. Gen. Darryl A. Williams (left) and retired Lt. Gen. Joseph DeFrancisco, chairman of the West Point Association of Graduates, during the Thayer Award Banquet in Washington Hall on Oct. 7. The Thayer Award is given to a U.S. citizen whose service and accomplishments in the national interest exemplify devotion to the ideals expressed in the academy’s motto: “Duty, Honor, Country.”     (Photo by Kyle Osterhoudt/USMA PAO)
2 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Mae C. Jemison, the 2021 Thayer Award recipient, accepts the Thayer Award from Superintendent Lt. Gen. Darryl A. Williams (left) and retired Lt. Gen. Joseph DeFrancisco, chairman of the West Point Association of Graduates, during the Thayer Award Banquet in Washington Hall on Oct. 7. The Thayer Award is given to a U.S. citizen whose service and accomplishments in the national interest exemplify devotion to the ideals expressed in the academy’s motto: “Duty, Honor, Country.” (Photo by Kyle Osterhoudt/USMA PAO) (Photo Credit: Kyle Osterhoudt) VIEW ORIGINAL

By Delancey Pryor III

PV Assistant Editor

To recognize the extraordinary achievements of individuals who go above and beyond to serve the nation, the West Point Association of Graduates presented Dr. Mae C. Jemison with the 2021 Sylvanus Thayer Award on Oct. 7 during a ceremony hosted by Superintendent Lt. Gen. Darryl A. Williams at the U.S. Military Academy.

The Thayer Award, established in 1958, is awarded annually to an outstanding U.S. citizen whose services and accomplishments in the nation’s interest exemplify personal devotion to the ideas expressed in the West Point motto, “Duty, Honor, Country.” Previous recipients include presidents Ronald Reagan, Dwight D. Eisenhower and George H.W. Bush as well as former astronaut Neil A. Armstrong.

Before the ceremony, Jemison met with the Margaret Corbin Forum and selected West Point cadets at the Superintendent’s Conference Room. During the conversation, she explained how understanding different cultures could make one a better leader.

Class of 2022 Cadet Felita Zhang attended the presentation and expressed how compelling Jemison’s discussion was throughout her experience.

“It was really significant to me because it affirms the need to broaden my perspective through seeing the world through the lens of people who have different values than me,” Zhang said. “It also shows the need for diversity in organizations.”

After a brief reception at the West Point Club, all roads led to a parade on The Plain led by the Corps of Cadets to commemorate Jemison’s contributions as a NASA astronaut and educator, among other accomplishments.

Later in the evening, at a dinner in Jemison’s honor, Williams celebrated her accomplishments by inducting her to the National Women’s Hall of Fame, National Medical Association Hall of Fame and the Texas Science Hall of Fame.

Soon after, Jemison addressed the Corps of Cadets on their responsibilities as future leaders and understanding the importance of balancing one’s time.

“Time is limited but it has infinite possibilities. There are 86,400 seconds in each day and we can do, with each of those seconds, exactly as we please, but we can never get a single one of those seconds back,” Jemison said. “It’s what we decide to do with our time and choices that make our time infinite.”

Jemison added how the COVID-19 experiences within the past 18 months had tested the faith and fortitude of leaders seeking progress around the world.

“This is the world that we (live) in today. This is the world that you will (explore) and be expected to make contributions (as officers),” Jemison said. “When we think about it, yes, the pandemic (presented many challenges) but there was also the social justice movement, there was an assault on our nation’s capital by fellow U.S. citizens and a widening wealth gap shifting money and ownership of resources.”

She then expressed how she believed these issues are not going anywhere and how West Point is at the forefront of providing a top-tier education that will help the leaders of tomorrow make impactful decisions for the future.

“It’s education that fosters critical thinking, awareness that builds a love of learning and understanding, and knowing that we are inextricably connected to people and to this planet,” Jemison said. “Education empowers its graduates not only to act in their own immediate best interest but to consider and work for the well-being of future generations ... that’s what you’re getting here.”

During her speech, Jemison challenged cadets to think freely and understand that they’re charged with paving the way toward a future that embraces all cultures and creeds.

“The actions of the past have created the world we live in today and you have the opportunity to create the world of tomorrow (through) your actions today,” Jemison said. “Our actions are anchored in our knowledge, our fears, our loves, our hope, our faiths, our experiences, the resources we have, our skills, our access, our capabilities, what makes us happy and what makes us care.”

As a last thought, she reflected on her time in space, where she spent her days staring down at the thin blue line of Earth’s atmosphere. Jemison offered that each person should focus on one’s physical as well as emotional connectedness.

“We all belong here ... We’re not complete if we disregard any side of ourselves,” Jemison said. “We have to live deeply and understand touch, sight, sound, smell, insight and knowledge ... those things are part of us. You can learn something from any situation.”

Jemison attended Stanford University, where, in 1977, she earned a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering and a Bachelor of Arts degree in African and African American studies. She later graduated from Cornell Medical School with a Doctorate in Medicine. In 1983, Jemison joined the Peace Corps and served as a medical officer for two years in Africa.

After a lengthy application and selection process, she was selected as one of 15 to join NASA Astronaut Group 12, which was the first group selected after the Challenger explosion in 1986. On Sept. 12, 1992, Jemison and six other astronauts went into space on the space shuttle Endeavor. The voyage made Jemison the first African American woman in space.

After six years, she left NASA in 1993 to begin her teaching career at Dartmouth College, followed by an appointment as an Andrew D. White Professor-at-Large at Cornell University.

Currently, Jemison leads the 100-Year Starship project, which aims to ensure that human space travel to another star is possible within the next 100 years.