WEST POINT, N.Y. (May 22, 2010) -- Just more than a thousand hats took flight May 22 marking the graduation of the West Point Class of 2010 and the transformation of cadets into commissioned second lieutenants.
After the hats were tossed and with diplomas in hand, the officers exchanged hugs, handshakes and back slaps among colleagues, family and friends at Michie Stadium.
For 2nd Lts. Joseph Grimm and James Henshaw, the feeling of euphoria following the ceremony was overwhelming. As they searched for familiar faces among the thousands on the football field, there was an energy not unlike that of a Super Bowl celebration.
"I'm looking for my friends right now because they're the ones who got me this far," Henshaw said, who will be going to Fort Sill, Okla., for field artillery training. "From day one, you have someone who can help you make a bed properly to today, when my roommate and I helped clear out our room together."
It's that network of support and camaraderie Henshaw said he'll miss the most leaving West Point. But after a mind-numbing week of exams, it's the relentless studying and homework he's happy to leave behind.
Grimm will take advantage of a little leave before returning to training mode. He's assigned to Fort Benning, Ga., where he'll enter infantry training for officers, then Ranger School and Airborne School before joining the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C.
"Right now, I'm honored to be a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army," Grimm said. "I feel West Point has definitely given me the tools I need to succeed. They've prepared us very well."
Second Lt. Anthony Nash, a field artillery officer, is the first in his family to enter military service.
"I didn't come from a military family, however, but I might as well be. My mom is very patriotic and acted as my first drill sergeant as I grew up," the Buffalo, N.Y. native said.
Nash said he first became interested in West Point after talking to his football coach from Bennett High School who was a Class of 1980 graduate. He looks forward to a homecoming this summer in Western New York where he'll enjoy the local festivals and eat some of those famous chicken wings.
"I will spend most of my break hanging with my family and friends," Nash said. "After I get out of the Army, I want to go back to teach in the Buffalo Public School System."
Nash will be stationed at Fort Sill, Okla., for field artillery training, before heading to Ranger School. He said he'll then return to New York when he is assigned to Fort Drum.
Second Lt. Elizabeth Betterbed entered West Point with two clear objectives: make the soccer team and graduate. However, she's leaving with a whole lot more. Betterbed, a Fox Island, Wash., native, graduated with the highest accumulative cadet performance score. The Engineering Corps officer is also a Rhodes Scholar recipient, a member of a team of mechanical engineers who helped develop a bionic foot for their capstone project, and served as deputy brigade commander, the second highest leadership position among the 4,400 Corps of Cadets. Of the four years at West Point, Betterbed said these final weeks have been the most memorable.
"This is as good as it gets. We just finished up our capstone project and got to test it on a Soldier from Walter Reed; I'm graduating with my whole family here. I mean, that's the greatest thing," Betterbed said. "Of course last year, our soccer team going to Patriot League Championships was a pretty cool and unique memory as well."
Betterbed, a four-year letter winner and starter on the Women's Soccer Team, led the Black Knights in scoring this past fall.
"I made some good friends, had some great mentors and it's always fun to play your favorite sport after school every day," Betterbed said, a two-time Academic All-American. "And getting to compete with the 'Army' on your shirt is a pretty cool thing."
Betterbed said she wants to do some world traveling this summer with her sister, Claire (Class of 2013), and will be picking out housing in England before starting school at Oxford. Joining her overseas is 2nd Lt. Alexandra P. Rosenberg of New York, N.Y. Rosenberg earned the highest cumulative academic quality point average and was named the Class of 2010 Valedictorian.
Lt. Gen. Franklin L. "Buster" Hagenbeck, U.S. Military Academy superintendent, recapped the narrative of the Class of 2010 as one of unprecedented achievements.
"They've met all the challenges of the West Point experience," the 57th USMA superintendent said. "They're ready to assume the mantle of leadership, to transition from cadet to officer and with this, to accept the incredible responsibility that goes with leading American Soldiers."
"You've surpassed all of my expectations," the 57th USMA superintendent said. "As a class and as individuals, you've distinguished yourselves in all pursuits. Academically, you've won more Rhodes, Marshall, Truman, Rotary, National Science Foundation Scholarships than any class of recent memory. On the fields of friendly strife, just this year alone you've lead teams that have won six national club titles, seven Patriot League Championships and you've won doing it the right way."
President Barack Obama applauded the Class of 2010 and their families for their patriotism and for committing themselves to serving the nation. During his graduation address, the commander-in-chief said he could empathize with the hardships these cadets endured during their initial, or plebe, year.
"You have pushed yourself through the agony of Beast Barracks; the weeks of training in rain and mud; and, I am told, more inspections and drills than perhaps any class before you," Obama said. "Along the way, I'm sure you faced moments when you asked yourself: 'What am I doing here'' I have those moments sometimes."
Obama noted the diversity among the class with 14 foreign cadets representing such countries as Iraq, Nicaragua, Rwanda and Thailand. The Class of 2010 was also represented by 136 women, 54 African Americans, 70 Asian/Pacific Islanders, 69 Hispanics and six Native Americans.
"This is the first time in academy history when your two top awards have been earned by female cadets," Obama said. "This underscores a fact I have seen in the faces of our troops from Baghdad to Bagram -- in the 21st century, our women in uniform play an indispensable role in our national defense. Time and again, they have proven themselves to be role models for our daughters and sons -- as students, Soldiers, and as leaders in the United States Army."
"The faces in this stadium show a simple truth: America's Army represents the full breadth of the American experience," he said. "You come from every corner of our country -- from privilege and poverty; cities and small towns. You worship all of the great religions that enrich the life of our people. You include the vast diversity of race and ethnicity that is fundamental to our nation's strength."
Celebrations continued long after the hat toss as graduates participated in one final tradition, the bar-pinning ceremony. Throughout the installation, second lieutenants pinned on their new rank as individuals, in companies, as well as athletic teams. One group in particular, the Army Lacrosse team, held a quick ceremony before embarking on the bus to Stony Brook to play in the NCAA Lacrosse quarterfinals May 23.