An interesting thing happens when people discover that I’m a West Pointer.
They say, “Oh, I didn’t know,” or even more dramatic: “Why, I had no idea!”
This is said in an accusing “Why didn’t you tell me?” tone, as if I were purposely holding back a secret.
Here’s the secret: It’s not a secret. I wear my ring every day at work. In fact, if I leave the house without it I don’t even make it out of the development before realizing, “hey, I forgot my ring” (no I don’t turn back to get it, that would be a bit much). It’s not really the kind of jewelry I’d choose, but class rings have a list of required elements, and in the case of the academy, there’s an extensive list, so it’s a sizeable ring. Even the girls’ standard rings are big. The only things you can customize are the color and quality of the gold, the finish, and the rocks you want in the setting. Mine is a few steps away from Liberace grade gaudiness, with a ring of eight tiny diamonds around an oval, faceted amethyst. If you didn’t notice me sporting the hunk of gold containing what appears to be a glitzy purple eye, then maybe you need to have your vision checked.
Aside from the ring brandishing, I don’t reveal anything unless it’s relevant to the discussion. See the following example:
“So you’re going to your ten year reunion this weekend--is that high school or…?”
“Really? Where’d you go to school?”
“I went to West Point.”
If the person didn’t know this, we’ll shift to the “I had no idea” conversation. If the person knew but forgot, they’ll nod slowly and say something like, “Oh yeah, that’s right.”
Shortly after I was hired, my boss at a previous job pulled me into his office for a getting to know you type orientation deal. We chit chatted, but really I just wanted to go back to my desk and get back to figuring out whatever it was I was supposed to be doing. I already knew he was a West Pointer, a ’73 graduate, but I didn’t mention anything about myself until he asked me where I went to school. “Well, why didn’t you say something?!” he said. His face was devoid of a smile and his eyes were serious; it was as if he thought I had pulled a prank at his expense. For the rest of the time I worked there, I had the distinct impression that he held my keeping quiet against me.
But really, what was I supposed to do? How do people expect me to make this known? The name of my school is on my resume, it’s on my transcripts and it’s on the ring I wear Monday through Friday during business hours. How else should I tell the world I went to West Point?
Short of hiring a town crier, I’ve come up with a few ideas--
Just as a meeting starts, I'll rise from my chair and say, “Before we begin, there’s something you all should know about me…”
Upon settling a dispute: “But I’m not wrong—don’t you know where I went to school?”
When being volunteered for something I don’t want to do: “Well, I believe my diploma from West Point excuses me from this menial task—good day!”
I realize it appears that there’s always an advantage in admitting that I’m a West Pointer. This isn’t always true. When people know, they suddenly have an increased level of that dreaded intangible known as “expectations.” At the job from “9 days a week,” one guy found out and I could practically hear him thinking, “Well then, what the hell are you doing here?” His brother was an academy graduate so he had a pretty good idea of the goings on during those four years and what he concluded was this: West Pointers aren’t supposed to be underachievers. They aren’t supposed to be anything less than the best.
It’s a lot of pressure. People have an image of a West Pointer and I defy that image every time someone squints at me and says “But you don’t seem like a West Pointer.” It’s an absurd thing to say because the place attracts people from all walks of life. It’s not as if everyone accepted to the school is sent through a factory and homogenized before popping out on the other side on a conveyor belt--perfectly molded cadets standing tall like toy soldiers. If that’s what you thought, I’m here to tell you it doesn’t happen that way.
I was a square peg for four years straight. Among the best of the best, I was like the sediment in a fine wine, settling into the bottom of the cask. I was unathletic and did terribly at most of the required courses. I was a psychology major (okay, you got me--I mean “field of study”) in a school known for its engineering program. After graduation, a friend confessed that someone had said about me: “She’s the most unmilitary person I’ve ever seen.” When she told me this, I was hurt--insulted, even, but with some time and perspective, I now recognize the truth in his statement.
Over a decade removed from my graduation, I see my classmates and realize maybe I wasn’t the only square peg. Many people have left the Army and taken their own paths. Some have stayed in while juggling other endeavors on the side. Each person has defined what qualifies as “best” for themselves and if that doesn’t fit some other person’s ideal of what a West Point graduate *should* be doing, then the person making the assumption needs to widen their perspective.