Tradition – West Point Life Lesson #11
I can honestly say that June 3rd, 1995 was one of the most memorable days of my life. I worked hard for this moment for four long years. It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon and family and friends gathered in Michie Stadium to watch the Class of 1995 graduate from the United States Military Academy at West Point, NY.
The sense of accomplishment, pride, and relief percolated through my soul as I marched with my cadet company up to the Michie Stadium to take part in the ceremonies. My full dress grey over white uniform was perfect. My white pants were stiff with a heavy starch. My gold breast plate was polished to perfection. I could feel the weight of my cadet saber hanging from my hip. My white gloves on my hands were bright and crisp.
Everything was completed. I passed all my classes, met all academic, physical, and military requirements and was on my way to graduate and receive my commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in the United States Army. It was a splendid day.
I knew what to expect, because I watched the ceremony from the stands for the last three years. I knew that it was tradition to donate $1.00 to the “goat fund.” Every graduating cadet donates $1.00 to the fund to be given to the cadet that finishes last in the class. Towards the end of the academic year cadets would actually compete for this dubious honor and balance being last and not meeting the requirements to graduate, a dangerous game!
Inside my white cadet cap I taped a 3×5 card with my name and where I was from along with an inspiring message written on it, because I knew that I would toss my white hat high into the air at the end of the ceremony after hearing the words, “class dismissed!” for the last time. Throwing the white hat in the air is symbolic. It symbolizes a cadet leaving the cadet life behind and will never wear the cadet hat again, but instead will now don the Army green hat, which symbolizes the start of an Army career. I knew that a young boy or girl would end up with my hat as was customary for little kids to run around Michie stadium and collect the hats that were left behind. I wanted my kid to know who owned the hat that he picked up and I wanted to leave an encouraging message.
I knew that I needed to carry a silver dollar in my pocket so I could toss it to the first subordinate that presented me with my “first salute” as a newly minted army officer. It did not take long for me to part with my special coin as an underclass cadet eagerly saluted me when I exited the stadium to head down to a picnic area to celebrate with family and friends.
Finally, it was surprisingly emotional for me to present my cadet saber to my parents and to have them pin on my gold lieutenant bars towards the end of the day. We cried together as the weight of the moment was lifted off our shoulders. The West Point experience took a toll on our family. It was long, hard, and an exceptional four years. My parents rode the wave of emotions with me and they were just as relieved and proud as I was to have successfully made it through the whole experience.
To this day, you can find my old cadet saber proudly displayed in the center of my parents home, a symbol of pride and tradition that symbolizes our West Point experience.
I have not been to a West Point graduation since I left Michie Stadium 18 years ago, but I can vividly picture in my mind the various ceremonies and traditions that occur each and every year, because I know West Point is an institution rooted in tradition.
My West Point experience taught me the importance of developing strong traditions. I found that tradition is the glue, the underlying foundation that keeps an organization strong. There is strength and camaraderie in tradition that adds value to the human experience. It is not just a characteristic that serves West Point; it should be an aspiration for any organization including families.
Think about traditions that you can start in your family that will strengthen the bonds that hold you together. It can be as simple as eating dinner together at the table every night, or going out for ice cream after church. It gives your family something to look forward to and experience together, but most importantly something to hold onto as time takes over and “today” becomes “tomorrow” and it is only the memories of your traditions that are strong and vivid reminders of years past.