Class of 2020 member Nicholas Cunningham

June 19th, 2020 | In Focus, News

Pointer View: When it comes to your Class of 2020 motto, “With Vision We Lead,” what do those words mean to you?
Nicholas Cunningham: “Our class motto is a great reminder to not take yourself too seriously. I know some of my classmates wished our motto did not include a pun, but I appreciate the humor. There will be plenty of opportunities to be serious throughout our careers in the Army and I think there is tremendous value in keeping a bit of levity.”

PV: What does service and leadership mean to you as you start your career as an Army officer?
NC: “Service and leadership are two points of emphasis for the servant-leader model—a paradigm that I want to follow throughout my Army career. A servant-leader recognizes that he or she is not working for the benefit of himself or herself. Instead, a servant-leader works for the benefit of the organization.”

PV: What advice would you give to the underclassmen or to your younger self from four years ago with what you know now from your academy experience?
NC: “Resist the temptation to ‘coast.’ You can get by at West Point doing the bare minimum but you will have wasted the experience. There are numerous opportunities for extracurricular development that often go unutilized because some are not interested in maximizing the West Point experience.
“I saw this most frequently with AIADs—there are so many opportunities for new experiences that go wasted because some would rather go home for the summer.”

PV: What is your favorite memory/top moments in your time at West Point?
NC: “Some of my favorite memories have been with the Cyber Policy Team. In 2019, we traveled to Geneva, Switzerland for a competition (the Cyber 9/12 Strategy Challenge). We spent five days in Geneva and nearly every night was sleepless because we kept arguing about the best policy to present for the competition.
“Eventually, we pulled together as a team and ended up winning the competition. The win was extra satisfying because of how much work the team put into winning.”

PV: Do you feel you achieved all your goals at West Point?
NC: “No. There are a few goals that I did not achieve. For example, I set a goal for myself to earn a technical scholarship to attend graduate school after West Point but came up short in the end. I was disappointed in not achieving this goal—I found out recently about the outcome of the selection—but the process itself was very developmental and I ended up achieving a few smaller goals along the way.
“I have been reminded to learn from the failures, celebrate the successes and then keep moving forward.”

PV: What is your best achievement at West Point?
NC: “I would say graduation by itself is my best achievement.”

PV: Any one person you’d like to mention who helped your success/guided you the most at West Point?
NC: “There are a few people that have guided me throughout West Point—Lt. Col. Kevin Cummiskey, Lt. Col. Andrew Lee, Lt. Col. Tim Sikora, Col. Krista Watts, Col. Joseph Lindquist—to name a few. I also need to give a shout out my MA104 instructor Maj. Scott Warnke. Warnke convinced me to major in Math. This is funny because I hated math in high school but he convinced me otherwise.”

PV: Through this collective experience everyone has gone through, from your perspective, how has the Class of 2020 united together and motivated each other during the COVID-19 crisis?
NC: “I appreciated how my classmates still took an active interest in class despite the environment. I think it would have been easy for everyone to have just complained about the circumstances and checked out for the rest of the semester.”

PV: What was the biggest hurdle you faced during the crisis? What did you find out about yourself and your resilience, whether it was physically or mentally, in overcoming this situation and drive toward graduation?
NC: “Uncertainty is a significant hurdle. Many of us are no longer certain of our timelines after West Point. However, I have learned that being resilient against uncertainty means being flexible and focusing on what I can control rather than focusing on externalities.”

PV: Describe what tossing your hat in the air meant to you, completing your journey at West Point?
NC: “I am very happy to move on to the next chapter in my life.”

PV: You are prior service … how did that experience shape your time at the academy? What MOS were you?
NC: “I was an 11B (Infantryman) in the Florida Army National Guard. I enlisted because I got rejection letters from nearly every college—my high school career was less than stellar. My enlisted experience helped give me a confidence that has carried me through my time at West Point.”

PV: You branched infantry … why did you choose to serve in the infantry?
NC: “I wanted to branch Cyber originally.However, Cyber ranked me low in their preference. I knew that I would enjoy a career in the infantry given my prior experience.”

PV: I was told you are an accomplished academic … what drives you when it comes to learning?
NC: “I try to seek opportunities to challenge myself. Academics is another means to do so.”

PV: When your class got back, you had classes on educating future platoon leaders on the COVID-19 environment … thoughts about having to be even more flexible in close quarters in a unit environment due to COVID-19?
NC: “In a recent news conference, (Army Chief of Staff) Gen. McConville stated, ‘we can’t telecommute to combat.’ I think this statement also carries to training—we cannot simulate a squad live-fire exercise.
“However, we also cannot recklessly expose Soldiers to infection. Consequently, we will take a hard look at what it means for ‘training to standard’ when many leaders are ‘training to time’ and thereby creating a risk of exposure to Soldiers.”