Over 30 years ago, I experienced one of the most painful disappointments of my life when I was separated from the United States Military Academy at West Point. The hurt and shame I felt was immense and was only overcome by very wise and caring parents who never once voiced anything for me but love and support and who helped me to rally on in pursuing a life of purpose. Over time, I grew to move past the disappointment, but continued to carry a gnawing feeling that somehow, this setback had exposed something defective in me and I was no longer worthy to be associated with a group of people I had come to love as much as my own family – the USMA Class of 1985!
The challenge I faced, was that though I had doubts about how my class felt about me and my place with them, there was no doubt how I felt about them and their place in my heart. Before PC’s took a place of prominence in our lives, I watched silently from afar, keeping up through telecasts of the Army Navy game and cheering that ultimate accomplishment of graduation by watching every telecast report of the excellence that wasn’t only strived for, but achieved! I watched the Army Times for promotions, strained for glimpses of careers through the news, and occasional connections but mostly continued to follow at a distance as ‘85’s greatest non-graduate fan!
The years passed. I embraced a calling that was clearly placed upon my life and pressed on in service of another kind, applying lessons learned for my time at the Academy in the context of ministry. Within that period, email came into play and then a short time later, social media. Years of being away from sustained direct contact from my friends had allowed for the accumulation of a curiosity that couldn’t be denied. I began to test the waters by reaching out to a few friends. At the same time, others reached out to me. Before I knew it, I was interacting with friends I hadn’t seen for years! We were catching up, sharing encouragement and having very meaningful interactions.
I got significant insight into the true heart of ’85, as Kris Fuhr and I had an occasion to work together on a very significant city ministry project involving a major film. As the project was presented to community leaders, Kris referred to me in her opening comments as not only a friend, but a classmate in good standing. Other members of ‘85 referred to me in the same way, and included me on email lists, social media circles and other points of connection. I began to have face to face reunions with ‘85 friends with each occurrence characterized by positivity and affirmation. It seemed I was still, somehow, connected. As a result, I began to hear of, and was invited to attend, the reunion!
A few hard but gentle pushes from several ’85 members and Luz made it clear that whatever challenges I thought I might meet at the reunion, would be greatly surpassed by the wrath of those who were urging me to attend if I chose to ignore the invitation. Close to the 11th hour, I signed up for all of the activities I could and last week, Luz and I headed for the "Touchstone" as one classmate referred to our Rockbound Highland Home.
Then we arrived! From my first encounter to my last, I experienced overwhelming love, encouragement and acceptance! I wasn’t just present, but was seen as a part! This acceptance was really brought home to me in the words of one of our classmates who answered my doubts with great tenderness saying, “Sam, you’re a part of our story!” Others confirmed it in embracing me as a Brother and choosing to remember me at my best, and not defining me by my worst! My convictions of acceptance were cemented when I and others were invited in matter-of-fact fashion to stand with the class as the Corps passed in review.
As sweet as the invitation was, at the last moment, even as I had agreed to stand with the class, panic set in and I asked
Thank you for your graciousness towards me and towards Luz during the entire reunion. Thank you for kindness and love that reduced me to tears of joy and relief when I had the time to process it once I returned home. Thank you for being giants of character, full of grace, allowing those of us who walked with you only for a season, to remain in your midst as we press on seeking to live by the ideals that were drilled into our heads, but also, etched upon our hearts. May we all continue our journeys together, spurring each other on to excellence, taking advantage of every opportunity to live out and pass on those virtues that indelibly mark each one of us as products of the Long Gray Line! You are giants and I am humbled to stand in your midst unseen by others, but blessed by you! Thank you for continuing to consider me, and others like me, a part of this amazing and outstanding company of excellence.
With utmost respect, your classmate,
Samuel D. Jackson
Ex-Cadet, USMA 1985