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One Great and Grateful Citizen

The 2013 Sylvanus Thayer Award

Annually, since 1958, the Thayer Award has recognized a lifetime of service of a great American. This year’s recipient, the Honorable Madeleine K. Albright, wanted to recognize the great American service men and women she has encountered over her lifetime.

Early in her acceptance speech before the Corps of Cadets, Dr. Albright acknowledged the remarkable list of Thayer Award recipients to which she now belongs and said the one with whom she most wanted to share the stage was the 2002 winner—The American Soldier. From her time as young refugee in England during World War II watching “the Yanks” come to Europe’s aid, to her time as the 64th Secretary of State visiting soldiers stationed overseas, Dr. Albright said that she has always been impressed by their enthusiasm and commitment and, “as one citizen,” acknowledged an “enormous debt to those who have chosen to contribute their energy and talents to the armed forces of our country.”

Like those before her, Dr. Albright had the opportunity to review the Corps of Cadets assembled in formation on the Plain to honor the Thayer Award recipient. “After seeing your amazing parade,” she told the Corps at dinner, “I feel like saying to those back in our Capitol—these men and women deserve better.” Her adlibbed line brought roaring applause from the cadets in the Mess Hall.

Trooping the line with the Superintendent was not Dr. Albright’s only interaction with cadets. Earlier in the day, she had Q&A sessions with cadets from the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership’s Black and Gold Leadership Forum, with cadets associated with the Center for the Study of Civil-Military Operations (CSCMO), and with Truman Scholar cadets (Dr. Albright is President of the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation). Regarding this last session, Cadet Ahmad Nasir ’14 had the opportunity to ask Dr. Albright what her response to Syria would have been if she were still the Secretary of State. “The answer she gave was in-depth and thoughtful,” Nasir said. “She included just about everything, from the broad geopolitical implications of the situation to the minute details surrounding it.”

“I have enjoyed my interaction with the cadets and with the faculty here very much,” Dr. Albright said. Addressing CSCMO specifically, she noted, “I think CSCMO is an example that this great military academy is not just sitting on its laurels; it’s a tribute to the Academy that its leadership is constantly looking forward to how we educate the next generation of America’s leaders on dealing with these important issues.”

The West Point Association of Graduates presents the Thayer Award annually to a U.S. citizen, other than a West Point graduate, whose outstanding character, accomplishments, and stature in the civilian community draw wholesome comparison to the qualities for which West Point strives, in keeping with its motto: Duty, Honor, Country. Here’s a list of Dr. Albright’s signature accomplishments, which earned her a place alongside the previous 55 Thayer Award recipients:

•    Appointed Research Professor of International Affairs at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and Director of its Women in Foreign Service Program.
•    Awarded a fellowship at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars at the Smithsonian.
•    Nominated to be the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, where she was a leader in ending ethnic cleansing in Kosovo.
•    Became the 64th U.S. Secretary of State, confirmed by a Senate vote of 99-0 making her the first female Secretary of State and the highest-ranking woman in the history of the U.S. government.
•    Promoted the expansion of NATO eastward into the former Soviet bloc nations and the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons from the former Soviet republics to rogue nations.
•    Elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
•    Authored five books, including Memo to the President Elect: How We Can Restore America’s Reputation and Leadership (2008).
•    Remains a strong proponent of building a multi-faceted relationship with China to include trade agreements and fostering human rights.
•    Responsible for developing and implementing programs designed to enhance women’s professional opportunities in international affairs.
•    Holds a bachelor’s degree from Wellesley College (political science) and a master’s and doctorate from Columbia University’s Department of Public Law and Government.

Dr. Albright is the 4th woman to receive the Thayer Award (the Honorable Clare Booth Luce in 1979, Barbara Jordan in 1995, and Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in 2005) and the 3rd recipient of the award not to be born in the United States (Bob Hope in 1968 and Henry A. Kissinger in 2000).