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The 2019 Distinguished Graduate Awards

During the last week of April and into the beginning of May, the United States Military Academy at West Point celebrated the first-ever “Commitment to Service” week, a series of events (from the Grant Statue dedication to the Coach K Awards dinner) that highlighted the theme of a lifetime of selfless service to the nation, to the community, and to others. Speaking at the Distinguished Graduate Award (DGA) Luncheon, which honored the five graduates recognized in 2019, as well as welcomed the more than 740 graduates who returned to their alma mater for spring reunions, Lieutenant General Darryl Williams ’83, the 60th Superintendent of West Point, remarked that “Commitment to Service” weeks should be expanded to the DGA event. “I can’t think of a better way to inspire cadets to service than to have them spend a few minutes with this year’s DGA recipients,” Williams said, noting that if there were ever a “Who’s Who” or hall of fame for selfless service, it would be filled by the five Distinguished Graduates for 2019: General (Retired) David A. Bramlett ’64, Colonel (Retired) Victor Garcia M.D. ’68, Lieutenant General (Retired) Robert L. VanAntwerp ’72, General (Retired) Walter L. “Skip” Sharp ’74, and Lieutenant General (Retired) Robert L. Caslen Jr. ’75. [SEE PHOTOS]

In his few minutes with cadets, Sharp said he would reiterate the lesson of hard work. “I’m living proof that if you work your tail off, you get back a million-fold what you’ve put in,” Sharp said. He also said that he would remind cadets of the honor, privilege, and responsibility of serving with soldiers and protecting the United States. “It’s such a great honor.”

Caslen, who served as Superintendent to three-quarters of the Corps still present at the Academy and humbly noted that he is receiving his DGA because of what they accomplished, would pass along several lessons to cadets, all involving “character,” his signature issue. “A leader needs to set the conditions so that trust is sustained and exists, and trust is function of competence and character, so the leaders in the military must be men and women of character, because if they fail in character, they fail in leadership,” Caslen said.

VanAntwerp, who was a First Captain when Caslen was a plebe (“He was my mail runner!) said that he would pass along three lessons for leaderships to cadets: 1) invest in relationships to build trust, 2) become a great communicator, and 3) develop a “get to” attitude in order to recognize the things you are privileged to do. Explaining this last point, VanAntwerp said, “When I got up this morning, I asked, ‘What do I get to do today,’ and realized that I get to celebrate my DGA with about 60 family members and classmates…it’s a great day.”

Garcia said he would instruct cadets to have insatiable curiosity, develop competence, and exhibit compassion and empathy for the people whom they serve. “We all came here to be transformed as cadets, to become leaders,” Garcia said, “and the art of leadership is getting others to want to follow you in a sense that they are doing something for a greater purpose.” For Garcia, this means not only defending the freedoms of this country but also tackling critical social challenges such as rising inequality and disparities.

“This year’s DGA class represents nearly 175 years of combined service in uniform,” said the Superintendent, “to say nothing of the decades of experience and service beyond their Army careers.”

The DGA is given to graduates whose character, distinguished service, and stature draw wholesome comparison to the qualities for which West Point strives, in keeping with its motto: “Duty, Honor, Country.” Bramlett, who was in the mess hall as a yearling in 1962 and heard General Douglas MacArthur, Class of 1903, deliver his famous Thayer Award speech, colloquially known as “the Duty, Honor, Country speech,” said that those values unite all 2019 DGA recipients. “When you look at the biographies of these five graduates, what can one divine about what links them together?” Bramlett posed. “Throughout their lives you’ll see themes of service, commitment, and of course, duty.” The perfect themes for any “Commitment to Service” event.