(NEW YORK) — Thirty-four African American women are expected to graduate from West Point next weekend — the highest number of black women to graduate in the same class in the history of the military academy.
A photo of the historic class of 2019 circulated on social media this week as students finish up their final exams.
“My hope when young Black girls see these photos is that they understand that regardless of what life presents you, you have the ability and fortitude to be a force to be reckoned with,” cadet Tiffany Welch-Baker told the website Because of Them We Can.
West Point was founded in 1802 and, according to the National Park Service, graduated its first African American cadet in 1877. The first class that included women graduated more than a century later, in 1980. Last year, Lt. Gen. Darryl A. Williams was appointed as West Point’s first African American superintendent, CNN reported.
This year’s class will also include the highest number of Hispanic graduates and the institution’s 5,000th female graduate, according to ABC affiliate WABC-TV.
Simone Askew made history in 2017 as the first African American woman to lead the walk-on of the Cadet Corps before that year’s Army-Navy game. Askew’s mother told ABC at the time that watching the Army-Navy game as a child inspired her to attend a military academy.
In 2016, a group of 16 African American women about to graduate from West Point stirred controversy when a photo of them with raised fists surfaced. The military academy opened an investigation into whether or not the students violated the army’s rules on political expression, and later decided to take no punitive action against them.
Vice President Mike Pence will speak at this year’s graduation ceremony, his second visit to the institution.
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