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Rice Lauds Cadets and Constitution

The 2014 Thayer Award

In 1958, Major General Garrison Davidson ’27, USMA’s Superintendent at the time, summarized the Sylvanus Thayer Award with a purpose that still stands today: “…to recognize an American citizen of outstanding character and accomplishments whose status in the civilian community would draw wholesome comparisons to the values for which West Point strives—Duty, Honor, Country.” In introducing the 57th recipient of West Point’s highest award Lieutenant General (Retired) Larry Jordan ’68, Chairman of the West Point Association of Graduates, noted Davidson’s belief that the Thayer Award would inspire young people to become cadets. But in her speech accepting the 2014 Thayer Award, Dr. Condoleezza Rice remarked that it is the Corps of Cadets that inspires America’s citizens.

Rice began her speech to the cadets assembled in the Mess Hall for the event by saying that, as a university professor herself, she is tremendously impressed by what cadets do as students. She also noted how the football team at Stanford University, the University for which Rice served as Provost and at which she currently teaches as a professor of political economy at its Graduate School of Business, returned from its 2013 game at West Point inspired with stories of the lives cadets lead. Rice even concluded her speech by citing how the young men and women of West Point inspire. “You inspire us by the traditions of this place that has inspired you,” she said, “and you inspire us because you believe in Duty and Honor and Country.”

Of course, Rice did some inspiring herself in her speech, the body of which was a mix of the personal and the politically philosophical. At one point, she told a gripping account of 9/11 from her perspective on that day, including a light-hearted moment when the Secret Service “escorted” her (i.e., picked her up and carried her) to a bunker. She also noted that despite the threats that remain after 9/11, the United States is up to the task because of who we are. “Who we are is really the core of our inspiration,” she said, and it’s the Constitution of the United States of America that has helped us expand who we are to meet any threat to freedom, whether that is from an external enemy or an internal injustice. In a powerful passage, Rice told the cadets, “That remarkable Constitution which you have vowed to defend is one that began with my ancestors counted as 3/5ths of a man…and yet it was that same Constitution to which Martin Luther King would appeal when he said that segregation was wrong in my home state of Alabama.” “‘We the people’ is not bound by ethnicity, nationality or religion,” Rice said. “Ours has been a history of expanding the concept of ‘We the people’ to become ever more inclusive every day.” [Read Dr. Rice’s entire Thayer Award acceptance speech here.]

Earlier in the day, Rice had the opportunity to review the diverse and inclusive Corps of Cadets assembled in formation on the Plain to honor the Thayer Award recipient. “I just can’t tell you how much I enjoyed the wonderful review and how grateful I am to now be counted among the exceptional individuals who have received the Sylvanus Thayer Award,” she later said.

In 1981, Rice became a professor of political science at Stanford University, where she caught the attention of Brent Scowcroft ’47 at a 1985 meeting of arms control experts. Four years later, Scowcroft asked Rice to become his Soviet expert when he became President George H.W. Bush’s National Security Adviser. Rice would later become National Security Advisor herself to President George W. Bush in 2000, the first woman to hold this post. Making such history was nothing new to Rice. In 1993, she was the first woman, the first African American, and the youngest person ever appointed Provost of Stanford University. Later she would become the first African-American woman to serve as Secretary of State, during which she championed the expansion of democratic governments and set the record for most miles logged in the position while conducting diplomatic efforts. Rice returned to Stanford as a political science professor in 2009 and is currently a professor of Political Economy in the Graduate School of Business and the Thomas and Barbara Stephenson Senior Fellow on Public Policy at the Hoover Institution at Stanford. She also serves on the boards of the George W. Bush institute, the Commonwealth Club, the Aspen Institute, and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.

Since 1958, the West Point Association of Graduates has presented the Sylvanus Thayer Award to an outstanding citizen of the United States, other than a West Point graduate, whose service and accomplishments in the national interest exemplify personal devotion to the ideals expressed in the West Point motto: Duty, Honor, Country. Dr. Condoleezza Rice’s lifetime of ongoing achievements certainly merits this honor.