Proud to Be
I had my fortieth reunion this past weekend at West Point, and it's always great to go back and relive all my failures: academic, military, psychological, and sexual.
I'm kidding. About the sexual ones–reliving those is always sweet!
We gathered in the cadet mess since the pass in review (parade) was cancelled, me and the usual knuckleheads and chuckleheads, and it's always hilarious to catch up. Compare and contrast–where we're at in life, what we're doing, and with whom, and where and why and how, which is always humbling and instructive. Who said "an old friend is the best mirror?"
Feeling good all around about our still-special esprit de corps, and except for the drenching rain, an intoxicating and reaffirming time for everyone, surely.
And then my buddy Wertin sent me this photo of Eisenhower's 40th–Class of 1915–taken in 1955. Suits and ties, and white tablecloths. Ike was then President of the United States. Omar Bradley, who basically masterminded the entire military operation that annihilated the murderous Nazis, for good, except as a universal term of evil and disparagement, is to his right, looking happy and dapper.
We're a bunch of underachieving losers, comparatively speaking, was my first thought.
After breakfast everyone went up to the football game, but I decided to give my navy compagnon de voyage, LT, the grand tour since he had never been to our highland home. However, the jealous sky was falling in merciless, unholy buckets, and I suck as a duck. We were standing on the stoops of the barracks in fourth reg when I got talking to a guy who was also there for a reunion, his 30th.
We dove in deep, and talked about many things which I'll opine on another time, but he wanted to read the monograph I wrote about the cheating scandal that happened a few years ago.
So I dusted it off for him, and am reprinting it here for you guys:
A cadet will not lie...
I'm proud of my college GPA. It was a 2.0.
No joke–I was lost, but never found.*
Seriously, I was thinking about this recently when an old friend and Naval Academy grad, grinning, asked me what I thought of the recent West Point cheating scandal.
Here's my roundabout, always autobiographical, and somewhat self-indulgent take:
I'm not being facetious when I say that the "D" I got in chemistry sophomore year is still one of the greatest achievements in my life, and I've had many, both personal and professional.
And my 2.0 CUM? I'm proud of that too – I worked really hard trying not to get even lower.
I'm almost kidding, of course, but the point I'm making is this: I busted my butt and made the grade, if just barely. I used to say, tongue only halfway in cheek – if the minimum wasn't good enough it wouldn't be the minimum.
I did it on my own, with the help (and pity) of my classmates, and am proud that I did it by the book.
The Honor Code is simple: “A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do.” It's chiseled in huge sans-serif letters on a black granite plaque right by Central Barracks. It applies to all ranks and classes, whether star man or century man. Yes, separation is at the superintendent’s discretion, and extenuating circumstances blah blah blah.
But when fifty-five cadets are caught cheating, red-handed, and they are all or most are (rumored to be) football players on the Commander and Chief's Trophy winning team, don't immediately resign, I'm initially alarmed but withhold judgement. However, after their due process honor boards they all aren't summarily separated, it's to the academy's eternal shame and everyone associated with the long gray line's diminishment.
Simple as that. What matters in life, I've since found out after my own illustrious career ended (Yuk, retired), is not grades or accolades, but character, and codes of conduct, especially ones literally carved in stone on hallowed walls.
N.B. I originally edited out my take on the scandal since I didn't think it was appropriate for me to pass judgement without having all the facts. But I also didn't want to delete the post because I think the comments are instructive, and represent a valid assessment that’s fairly sober and fair enough.
But I've since edited my comments back in once the fact that the cadets who were caught cheating and acknowledged it during the "willful admission process" came to light in West Point's final (and public) report, which obviates the need for further analysis or excuses. QED.
p.s. I was at a professional conference in Washington D.C. last year and started talking to a guy who come to find out was a fellow West Pointer. First thing out of his mouth was, “I was in the Class of '76.” This class is infamous, notorious, for its widespread and ignominious cheating scandal. First thing out of his mouth, first thing, was an unsolicited and obviously still painful admission/apology for something he wasn't guilty of himself directly, but was by association. And we’re talking almost fifty years later. Fifty.
Where's the shame today?
*Being "found" at the Academy means separation, i.e. getting kicked out. It's a play on words, people!
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