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There was a threat of rain for the Graduation Parade on Friday, 28 May 2004, so the uniform was changed from full dress gray over white (with full dress hat and plumes) to white short-sleeved shirts over gray wool trousers with white garrison caps, but it was still a memorable event for the graduating class, the under classes, and all of the parents, siblings, relatives and friends in the stands. Even though many sported massive golf and beach umbrellas, except for a few random drops that fell prior to the march on, they were superfluous and most soon were folded away.
For those unfamiliar with the unique sequence of events of Graduation Parade, a little background must be provided. This last parade of the graduating class is actually the reverse of a parade held almost four years earlier, when the current graduating class first joined the Corps of Cadets as lowly plebes in late August, upon the completion of Beast Barracks and the return of the upper classes from various summer duties and training. For that parade, all of the plebes formed up in front of the reviewing stand and bleachers, facing The Plain, as the three upper classes marched onto the parade field. Upon command, the plebes, already organized into company elements, marched forward and took their place behind the upper classes assigned to their company. Then, the plebes passed in review for the first time as full members of the Corps of Cadets.
Four years later, all of the classes march on together, but the members of the graduating class march at the leading edge of each company. Upon command, the graduating class then marches up to the reviewing stand and bleachers to retake the positions they had held as plebes four years earlier. Command of the various cadet units then is assumed by members of the second class, and the three lower classes pass in review for the soon-to-be second lieutenants of the Class of 2004. More than one tear was seen on the cheeks of the graduating class, but they probably were just errant drops of rain.
Graduation day dawned clear, with no hint of rain, but Michie Stadium was quite chilly as even more parents, siblings, other relatives, friends, and some very special friends gathered for graduation and a speech from the Honorable Donald Rumsfeld. In his remarks, the Secretary of Defense cited the story of LT K.C. Hughes '01, who was wounded in Iraq but refused medical attention until his soldiers were treated, and urged the soon-to-be second lieutenants to get to know their soldiers and take care of them. "Your love for your soldiers must be as unconditional as it is for your own families." Members of the Class of 1954 presented each new graduate with a specially engraved set of gold second lieutenant bars as part of an ongoing legacy program, and many in the crowd were confused by the sudden applause for the "Class Goat," the lowest ranked cadet to graduate in May.
In this case, it supposedly was a cadet not originally slated to graduate until his overall grade was recomputed. To the surprise of the previous goat, he suddenly found himself moved up a notch in class standing. Slightly less fortunate members of the class would graduate a month or six months later, once they satisfied the demands of the academic gods. Security was tight, and the dash for the hats joyously tossed skyward by the graduating class was a bit more controlled-due to some minor injuries and other problems last year. Nevertheless, many youngsters found special surprises in their hat-a dollar bill, a photograph, a hand-written greeting. Unfortunately, due to the popularity of this element of graduation, several went empty-handed.
Then it was time for a myriad of bar-pinning ceremonies at various locations on post and off. Each of the cadet regiments set up ceremonial flags and had Tactical Officers and NCOs on hand to assist in pinning bars of gold on Army Green uniforms. Other cadets opted for private, family ceremonies at Herbert Hall, in front of various monuments, at Trophy Point, or in local restaurants. Some were quite elaborate affairs with dozens of family and friends gathered to share food and drink. Others were moveable feasts, with groups of classmates rotating from one location to the next to witness the bar pinning of company mates, teammates, or future spouses.
Among the graduates were LT Grace Chung, only the second female First Captain of the Corps of Cadets; LT Amber Raub, first academically and a Rhodes Scholarship winner; LT Daniel G. Kange, overall highest ranking cadet; LT Jeff Weaver, four-year track and field letter winner, holder of Patriot League records in long jump and triple jump, and male recipient of the Army Athletic Association Trophy; and LT Katie Macfarlane, four-year starter, all-time leading scorer and rebounder in women's basketball, and female recipient of the AAA Trophy.
In the end, West Point had accomplished its mission of preparing another group of 935 leaders of character to officer its platoons in time of war. In exactly one month to the day, the cycle would begin again as the Class of 2008 reports for Beast Barracks on 28 June 2004. The Cadet in the Red Sash awaits.
Your humble servant, J. Phoenix, Esquire
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the Hublick Family