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(1995) Barbara Jordan’s Acceptance Speech for the Sylvanus Thayer Award from the United States Military Academy, West Point

On October 5, 1995, three months before her death, former Congresswoman Barbara Jordan received the Sylvanus Thayer Award named in honor of Sylvanus Thayer, Class of 1808, who was the thirty-third graduate of the Academy and who nine years later became its fifth superintendent.  The award is presented by the Association of Graduates of the United States Military Academy to an outstanding citizen of the United States whose service and accomplishments in the national interest exemplify personal devotion to the ideals expressed in the West Point motto, “Duty, Honor, Country.”  Her acceptance speech appears below.

To be chosen to receive the Sylvanus Thayer award is a personal tribute of high and unmatched quality.  This single event places me among a group of distinguished Americans you believe best embodies the core principles of West Point. Duty.  Honor.  Country.  My unequivocal delight is enhanced by your presence. Your decision to attend this institution was not a trivial one.  You had to discard unnecessary irrelevancies and distracting engagements and commit yourselves to a path designed to add distinction to your country.

I believe I am looking at an audience that includes future Thayer Award winners. By your desire to come to this place, by your admittance through a rigorous screening process, and by your work while here, you have already shown that you are the resource from which leaders will emerge.

I know it must be difficult being a cadet. And I know as you sit here, with part of your attention focused on me and another part focused on the obligations of your cadet life, you are perhaps thinking that I am guilty of great understatement. Of course it is difficult being a cadet!

I know through conversations with some of your predecessors and through anecdotes that filter through the press and other media- some true, some perhaps exaggerated-that yours is an education unlike any other. Demands are placed on you that cause shudders in most of your peers around the nation. It is difficult, as you try to

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