The U.S. Military Academy at West Point is known for producing white male generals and future presidents—Patton, MacArthur and Eisenhower, to name a few. But among the 1,017 cadets who graduated from West Point on Saturday in a socially-distant, no-audience ceremony with Donald Trump as commencement speaker, was a record number of African-American women. According to the prestigious Army academy, 38 Black women graduated with the class of 2020, the most in the school's 218-year history. Last year, the class of 2019 made history with 34 Black female cadets, then the most-ever.
President Trump did not note the historic number of Black female graduates in his 30-minute speech (the West Point graduation was initially postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the president insisted on going ahead with it). But Connecticut senator Chris Murphy tweeted the triumphant photo of African-American graduates over the weekend, calling it "awesome" and noting that West Point has made an effort to diversify its long majority-white-and-male ranks. "I served on the school’s oversight board for years and this was one of our major initiatives," Murphy said.
Besides the historic nature of the graduation ceremony, Trump's appearance at West Point —most notably his exit— caused some news of its own. As Trump walked unsteadily down the ramp leading off the stage, again raising questions about the president's health, many observers posted videos of that walk on their social media accounts and the hashtag #TrumpIsNotWell started trending. Trump, who turned 74 on Sunday, responded angrily on his Twitter account, tweeting: “The ramp that I descended after my West Point Commencement speech was very long & steep, had no handrail and, most importantly, was very slippery. The last thing I was going to do is ‘fall’ for the Fake News to have fun with. Final ten feet I ran down to level ground. Momentum!” But as Maggie Haberman noted in The New York Times, "There was no evidence that the ramp was slippery, and the skies were clear during the ceremony."
According to West Point, "the number of Black female graduates has been steadily increasing. Last year, 34 Black women graduated from West Point & 27 graduates in 2018, while seven years ago, 13 black women graduated." The class of 2020 also included West Point's first observant Sikh cadet, Anmol Narang, 23, who told The New York Times that she was inspired to apply to West Point after visiting the Pearl Harbor National Memorial in Hawaii as a teen; her grandfather served in the Indian Army. Narang's graduation is barrier-breaking at a time when some branches of the military—all but the Army and Air Force—ban members from serving with turbans, which are part of religious observation in the Sikh faith.
Despite incremental progress, West Point remains mostly white and male: there were 230 women in the class of 2020, according to the Times, and 12-percent of graduates were African-American; 9 percent were Asian, 9 percent Hispanic and less than 1 percent Native American. The record number of black female cadets comes at a time of racial strife and reports of persistent racism in the military, highlighted by a telling photo from October of last year, in which Trump posed with his four-star generals in around the Resolute Desk and... every single one of them was a white male.
To the 38 Black female cadets who just graduated from West Point: here's hoping we see you in the Oval Office some day.