As with all sorrow, though, hope and love can bloom. Our entire class felt the loss, but inside the much smaller circle of women from the Class of '97, a seed was planted that has bloomed into something more. It began with flowers for the funeral, and continued with a dinner gathering in Washington, D.C. The camaraderie and the voices of support gained momentum, and we settled on a date to reconnect again, a mini-reunion of the women of '97. After months of anticipation, over the course of the weekend, 14 of the 94 women that graduated together got together in Raleigh to run, to celebrate, to laugh, to support each other, and to even get to know those with whom, up to this point, we had only shared the bonds of the Long Gray Line.
|L to R: Karen, Giselle, Dana, Julie, Rachael, Leah, Julie, Melissa, Heather, Ali, me, Heather & Christie|
And Jason in the back - he had a few hours to see what it was like for FOUR YEARS for us, ha!
I've said for many years that as a veteran of the United States Army, I'm a member of the biggest fraternity in the world. Last weekend, though, I realized something far more powerful, and much closer to my heart: as a West Point woman, I'm a very proud member of the smallest sorority in the world.
It is no secret that the young men and women who enter West Point are some of the brightest our country has to offer. Less often discussed is the fact that these are also some of the most competitive people you'll ever meet. That desire to compete and to win is heightened in the crucible of the cadet experience, further amplified amongst many of the women of the class who not only intend to prove themselves broadly, but within the smaller peer set of women. It was often a zero sum game; for someone to be the best, she had to do so at the expense of someone else.
I'm not convinced that atmosphere is unique to West Point, but I cannot imagine that any other institution of higher learning had the ratio, the pressure, the culture of competitiveness quite like ours. It was hard just to make it, and frequently, we made it harder on each other.
As we've aged, I think we've all grown into our own skin. We have become confident, successful women who measure our success not in others' failings; not in physical appearance; not in class rank. Our success lies in being the best versions of ourselves we can be, in striving everyday to be that better person. The strength of our character now shines in our support for each other, in our refusal to judge and our insistence on being each others' most vocal cheerleaders.
We spent much of last weekend together laughing and telling stories from school, sharing the latest on our girlfriends who weren't there, and celebrating who we've each become. It was an energizing, affirming weekend like I've never had, and I'm sure I'm not alone when I say I wish we had done this years earlier. It's a catch 22 though, I think. Years ago, I don't know that we would've been in a place to understand why we're so important to each other.
My friend Melissa summed it up perfectly when she said:
"We spent four years trying to be one of the guys, only to realize now that our strength lies in being one of the girls."
Jaimie will always be missed; the loss will always be felt. But with her passing, the West Point women of the Class of 1997 received the priceless gift of understanding just how important we are to each other.
|Heather, Giselle, Melissa, Ali, Julie, me and Rachael|
Proudly wearing our shirts to remember our USMA '97 fallen
With Pride We Defend.