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50 is Always >19

The West Point Association of Graduates’ Alumni Support programs have been dramatically affected due to COVID-19, but one program is strong as ever.

While dealing with the impact of COVID-19 has been a challenge, it has given Alumni Support an opportunity to re-invent its services, and no program better represents this “pivot” than its 50-Year Affiliation Program (50YAP) which pairs the entering cadet class with an alumni class that is 50 years its senior.

The purpose of the 50YAP, which began with the classes of 1949 and 1999, is to strengthen the ties between the graduates of yesterday and the cadets of today as both groups work together to strengthen the Long Gray Line as it serves our nation. Over the course of four years, the 50YAP graduates will accompany and support their affiliated cadets at significant milestone events from Reception Day (R-Day) through Graduation. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, the 50YAP graduates have been unable to be with their affiliated cadets at these ceremonies; however, just like the “close a door; open a window” saying, the support they have given has never been stronger.

Photo left: 2LT Hogue displaying his 2LT Bars

Take Graduation for example. Last year, the Class of 1970 provided several items to welcome the Class of 2020 to the Long Gray Line. In a normal year, four members from the 50YAP class are chosen to attend the graduation of the cadet class. These 50YAP representatives present each cadet with his or her first pair of second lieutenant (2LT) bars as they exit the dais upon receiving his or her diploma. Unable to enact this traditional plan in 2020, the Executive Committee of the Class of 1970 decided to start a letter-writing campaign, during which a 1970 graduate wrote a personalized letter to a graduating cadet from the Class of 2020. This campaign started on April 7, 2020, and in two months and three days the 660 members of the Class of 1970 had prepared a letter for each of the 1,120 cadets in the Class of 2020. In addition to the personalized letter, each member in the Class of 2020 also received a “Welcome to the Long Gray Line” gift bag, prepared by WPAOG’s Alumni Support staff. Each bag contained a silver dollar coin, a selfie stick and car window decal (donated by the Class of 1996, which traditionally hosts WPAOG’s “First Class Social” [cancelled in 2020 due to COVID- 19]), a Grad Guide, a “congratulations” card from WPAOG, and the ever-important 2LT bars.

WPAOG heard back from several Class of 2020 graduates that their favorite item in their “Welcome to the Long Gray Line” gift bag was the personalized letter that they received from a member of the Class of 1970. Second Lieutenant Tanner Sheffield ’20, for example, wrote to Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Lynch ’70 (Retired), saying: I just received your letter today as part of our graduation gift basket from the WPAOG. I would like to start by saying thank you for taking the time to write that letter to me and for my new 2LT bars. I will certainly wear those with pride and remember where they came from. I would also like to say thanks to you and the rest of your class for being so supportive of my class and me over the past 47 months! … Again, thank you so much for my letter and my bars. They are both very meaningful and special to me. I am excited to finally be a part of the Long Gray Line!

Photo right: 2LT from the Class of 2020 (commissioned during a virtual ceremony on their original graduation date of May 23, 2020) reviewing the contents of her “Welcome to the Long Gray Line” bags, which included gifts from the classes of 1970 and 1996 and WPAOG.

WPAOG has since learned that Sheffield and Lynch met with each other in Colorado when Sheffield visited Lynch’s home state to be a groomsman in a companymate’s wedding. From their meeting, Lynch has agreed to help Sheffield’s girlfriend (another member of the Class of 2020), as she will be stationed in a location near Lynch. Such relationships are just one example of the powerful connections made through the 50YAP letter-writing campaign.

Typically, Graduation would have only connected four members of the 50YAP to the First Class cadets, but the letter-writing campaign brought hundreds of West Pointers together in a way that would not have happened otherwise due to COVID-19. This allowed the 50-Year Affiliation program to grow the support between the graduates of yesterday with the current class of graduating cadets in a new and significant way. WPAOG looks forward to continuing this initiative with future 50YAP classes long after the crisis has ended.

Printed in West Point magazine, Spring 2021, all rights reserved.