West Point honors Henry O. Flipper, cadet earns Flipper Award

By Jorge Garcia PV Staff Writer - February 17, 2022
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The storied halls of the academy echoed, once again, with cheer and ceremonial praise to the triumphant efforts of Class of 2022 Cadet Zorian Flowers as he received the Henry O. Flipper award for overcoming hardship before and during his tenure at the U.S. Military Academy Feb. 10 in Washington Hall.

Raised in the southside of Chicago by his single mother and grandmother, Flowers grew up without a fixed address, faced repeated evictions, and moved to several different homes. However, a young Flowers never imagined that one day, through his uphill struggle, West Point would acknowledge him in the same breath as Henry Flipper. 

“As I thought about the life and legacy of Henry Flipper and his years here at West Point, I reflected on how far weʼve come as a country and a society as well as the unfinished work that remains, and there is still much work to be done,ˮ Secretary of the Army Honorable Christine Wormuth said. “I also reflected on other history makers and the significance of being the first like Flipper.ˮ

In 1877, Flipper became the first African American to graduate from West Point. However, achieving that historic feat came with utter subjugation, battling systemic racism and enduring four years of loneliness and isolation at the academy. 

“Henry Flipper opened the door through which multiple generations of cadets of color and diverse backgrounds have passed through,ˮ Wormuth said. “He frustrated, in a good way, societyʼs gatekeepers, and he paved a new course for minority cadets and officers at a time in our nationʼs history when the legacy of slavery was ever-present, and racial division and prejudice were still the norms.ˮ

Currently, 145 years after Flipper’s historic accomplishment, cadets who face adversity still endeavor to echo Flipper’s commitment to achieving one's goals and battling toward success. With graduation close at hand, Flowers embodied the spirit of Flipperʼs drive and, over the years, learned to overcome his hardships and misfortunes.  

Growing up with nine siblings in Chicago, Flowers endured many hardships that caused him to move between homes. In addition, he faced loss early in his life when his older brother passed away due to gun violence during his junior year at high school. 

But Flowers, with his network of supporters guiding and encouraging him through high school, focused on the academic path believing that one day knowledge would free him from the destitution that has plagued his family for so many years. 

Likewise, his mother and grandmother taught him enough about what it means to overcome adversity that when he finally enrolled at West Point, his penchant for hard work and dedication would eventually earn him the title of a senior leader among the Corps of Cadets as a cadet command sergeant major for 2nd Battalion, 3rd Regiment.

With that, Flowersʼs pursuit of giving back and helping people in need continued following the tragic murder of Pfc. Vanessa Guillen, in 2020 at Fort Hood, Texas. 

Flowers believes his next destination after graduating from West Point is Fort Hood. After experiencing the personal loss of family members, Flowers feels every post deserves good leadership, especially those whoʼve gone through tragedy, he noted.

“I was pleased to learn that in fact, Flowers will be going to Fort Hood. this speaks volumes about his character. After four years of intense effort, heʼs going where he’s most needed and (Flowers), the Army does need you there,ˮ Wormuth said. “In May, he will join Henry Flipper and the heroes of this institution in the long line of firsts as the first member of his family to graduate from college, and not just any college, but the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.ˮ

(Editorʼs note: An interview with Flowers happened post production, so there will be a feature on him in the next Pointer View.)