Class of 2023 takes time to celebrate, reflect at 500th Night

By Delancey Pryor III PV Assistant Editor - January 27, 2022
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Five hundred. For the U.S. Military Academy Class of 2023, 500 is the number that marks how many days the class has remaining until graduation and commissioning as Army officers. Cadets, currently in their cow year, celebrated 500th Night with a formal banquet Saturday inside Washington Hall.

After the formal introduction of the official party and greetings, Class of 2023 Class President Melic Belong expressed the love he has for his classmates and recalled the memorable times in which he shared alongside them.

“Whether it was setting up a patrol base under the blistering West Point summer sun or being alone to sleep at night on FTX by the sounds of distant machine gunfire, there is no one Iʼd rather have at my side then you all,” Belong said. “Together we make up a sacred bond. That bond is the Long Gray Line.”

Belong spoke on the trust and responsibility that each cadet has accepted as part of their future.

“The bond amongst us is one born of trust. That trust is as powerful as it is fragile. That kind of trust is earned, not given. It comes with the implicit promise between a nation and those sworn to protect it,ˮ Belong said. “That each day we embrace the mantle of responsibility to set and exceed the standard. To know the weight of our words and the impact of our actions and not abuse them. To be there for each other in the most difficult of times. To look at the stark realities of today in the eye and lead our people toward a better tomorrow. To take responsibility and do the difficult thing but we are principled servants of the nation and vigilant custodians of the constitution.”

Belong introduced guest speaker Lt. Gen. Xavier T. Brunson, the commanding general of I Corps at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington.
“I find myself in this position with more days in life and service behind me than I have ahead of me and because of that I canʼt waste the opportunity that Iʼve been given by your Superintendent to come and speak to you tonight,” Brunson said.

Brunson expressed that when you have the opportunity to listen to someone, always find the purpose in his or her words. 

“The purpose that I have tonight is to charge you to do something. You need to understand that sometimes the energy in your ‘yesʼ will make a way for you in this world,” Brunson said. “You made this cut. Three years youʼve been pursuing something. That level of commitment doesnʼt exist around the world. You might look for it, but you wonʼt find it. Itʼs resident right here. 

“This will be by far, the most selfish speech youʼve ever heard in your life,ˮ Brunson added. “I have a vested interest in you all, doing what youʼre going to do very well. I have more days in service behind me than ahead of me. Iʼve got to leave this to someone and that someone is the Class of 2023.

“I’m invested in what youʼre going to become. Itʼs critical for our nation to have young men and women who are willing to go where others wonʼt,ˮ Brunson concluded. “(Those who) would come to an institution knowing full well that they might be asked to give their full devotion. That is what makes you special people and to be in your company gives me energy ... and it drives me forward to do what Iʼve got to do as a leader.”

Brunson spoke about an experience he had as a newly commissioned officer that led him to have hope for the U.S. Army, nation and those you may look up to oneʼs leadership. 

“As a lieutenant, I once thought about getting out of the Army ... and Sgt. Silva ... looked at me and he said, ‘Hey sir. I heard you’re going get out of the Army,ʼˮ Brunson said. “He then asked, ‘Sir. Whoʼs going to take care of me?ʼ”

The commanding general then charged the cadets to understand the significance of his Soldierʼs remarks as some may see the young people of this nation as a paragon. 

“The feeling in the question I got from him was hope,ˮ Brunson said. “Embodied truthfully in the Bible, 1 Corinthians 13:13 ‘... And now these three remain: Faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.ʼˮ

Brunson explained that faith, hope and love are the tools of a military service member. 

“Faith is going get you out of bed in the morning. Faith in your nation. Faith in those you serve with. Faith in the Soldier you are and are going to become,ˮ Brunson said. “Love is why we do the things we do. Love of nation. Love those you serve beside. Love of your community. Even love of the Class of 2023.

“But hope is the thing that goes in your tank every day. It is hope that Sgt. Silva needed from me and itʼs hope that drove me to stay in the Army because I realized somebody needed me,ˮ Brunson added. “Whether you realize it or not, thereʼs somebody for everybody and that somebody is who you are going to look to when times get hard.” 

Brunson said that although silenced the entire time that he was at West Point, hope is best embodied by someone like retired Col. Charles Young, USMA Class of 1889. 

“In 1922, Young became the highest ranking African-American at the rank of colonel. You sit here tonight and you see an African-American Superintendent wearing three stars,” Brunson said. 

Just as he is inspired by Young’s story, Brunson expressed his feeling of inspiration from the presence of the Class of 2023 and what it means to be some 500 days from graduation as they celebrate the events of the night. 

“Donʼt waste this opportunity that youʼve been given. Your future, while not set, has been planned for you. You have all the tools that you need to lead and lead well,ˮ Brunson said. “I ask that you not forget that to whom much is given. Much more will be required. And though you only have 500 days until you leave this great institution, I want you to understand that whatʼs been asked of you here, much more will be asked of you out there.” 

In closing, Brunson asked cadets in attendance to think deeply about the following questions: How do you want to be remembered? What is your purpose? What can you do today to give hope to others?

“The most important question is that last one,ˮ Brunson said. “You have to be present to give people hope. It will make sure that you donʼt let the insignificant get in the way of the important. People need you. People make the difference for our nation and for our Army.” 

Brunson thanked Superintendent Lt. Gen. Darryl A. Williams for the invitation to speak and ended with four simple words.

“Work to give hope.”