The class of cadets preparing to jubilantly toss their caps in the air at the U.S. Military Academy’s graduation ceremony Saturday includes 34 black women, a record number that’s a sign of concerted efforts to diversify West Point’s Long Gray Line.
West Point remains mostly white and mostly male. The 34 women comprise a thin slice of the roughly 1,000 cadets in the Class of 2019. Sometimes, they’re the only women of color in a classroom. Still, cadets said they’re proud to be part of a milestone at the historic academy after four years of testing their limits.
“I just showed myself and those who thought I couldn’t do it initially that yes, I can,” said senior cadet Stephanie Riley, of Jacksonville, Florida. “And not just, ‘yes, I can.’ I can show other little girls that yes, you can come to West Point. Yes, you can do something that maybe the rest of your peers aren’t actually doing. And yes, you can be different from the rest of the group.”
Riley was among the black female cadets who recently posed for pre-graduation photos in their gray uniforms, holding out ceremonial sabers. The pictures — part of a tradition for graduating cadets — were posted widely online and became a symbol of West Point’s increasing diversity.
“I was more excited to just take the picture because it means that we’re all graduating and it was great to be there with a lot of my sisters who have been there for me in very tough times during summer training and during the academic year,” said senior cadet Gabrielle Young, from Hopkins, South Carolina. “I didn’t expect it to have the impact that it did around the country.
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