Women made history at West Point’s graduation Saturday. The 2019 class of graduates included a record number of Black and Hispanic women, making it their most diverse class yet.
The U.S. Military Academy overall graduated more than 980 students at their ceremony on Saturday, and 34 of them were black women, according to NBC News.
The women celebrated the milestone with a now-viral photo of all of them standing proud in their uniforms. “It was just very overwhelming to see all of our sisters — us just standing there in solidarity,” cadet Jabreal Arrington told NBC.
The number of Black women graduates has been steadily increasing over the years. Last year West Point graduated 27 Black women, and 13 in 2012, according to CNN.
Black people aren’t just attending West Point, but rising to prominence at the prestigious military school as well. Last year, they appointed its first Black superintendent, and the year before that the first African-American woman served at the top of the chain of command for cadets.
While strides are being made, the black women who graduated from West Point made up less than four percent of the graduating class, and the women felt that every day for the last four years.
“I definitely struggled sometimes, because sometimes I’d be the only woman of color, or even woman in general in my classes,” cadet Bria Errington said.
At its inception, West Point didn’t admit women. The university’s first co-ed class in 1980 graduated 62 women, and this year, the academy graduated 223 women overall and its 5,000th woman.
“It hasn’t always been pretty,” said cadet Tiffany Welch-Baker. “There are some moments here where you feel like ‘am I worthy? Do I deserve to be here?’”
She hopes future generations won’t have to question their worth the way they did. “I hope those girls can see themselves in us,” Welch-Baker said. “I want women to be soldiers. I want these little Black girls to say ‘hey, I can do it too. I have the strength to defy the odds.’ Which is what we did. We defied the odds.”
Mike Pence served as the commencement speaker and made note of “the historic milestones that we’re marking today,” according to CBS News, and told the new U.S. Army second lieutenants that they can expect to see combat.
“It is a virtual certainty that you will fight on a battlefield for America at some point in your life,” Pence said. “You will lead soldiers in combat. It will happen. Some of you may even be called upon to serve in this hemisphere.”
But not to worry, he assured the diverse class that the president, who has used anti-Black, anti-immigrant, and anti-woman rhetoric, supports them, saying “As you accept the mantle of leadership I promise you, your commander in chief will always have your back. President Donald Trump is the best friend the men and women of our armed forces will ever have.”
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