“My West Point Experience” In her own words … by Mary Cerbone

June 19th, 2020 | In Focus, News

As graduation draws closer, reflecting on the journey that will end in stepping out of cadet shoes and joining the ranks of Army officers has left me thankful and humbled.
Our class motto, “With Vision We Lead,” represents a class that has equal appreciation for subtle amusement and the serious path ahead. To have a vision means to picture the future, whether as a concrete achievement or abstract idea, and to lead with a vision means to take the steps necessary to make it a reality.
At West Point, I learned that merely having a vision is not enough. When I first started as president of the Chinese Language Forum, I wanted to expand the scope of the club to include more language and cultural activities, in addition to academic discussions on the politics of China.
Surrounded by hardworking cadets and faculty that supported this mission, we added events that engaged increasingly large groups of cadets and expanded the opportunities for those interested in the Chinese language to learn more intensively.
I have full faith in next year’s club leadership and I am excited to see their accomplishments in the continued pursuit of the club’s mission. Through this experience, I learned the passion and dedication necessary to make tough changes and I am inspired by the cadets who shared in my goals and helped make them a reality.
My thesis defense truly represented a culmination of many exciting moments throughout my cadet career, and I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to draw upon my West Point experience throughout the writing process. Having the privilege of defending my thesis on Free Trade Zones in China for the Social Sciences department is an experience that I will always cherish. I remember sitting in on a senior thesis defense my first year at the academy and wanting to write one myself.
Throughout the remaining three years at the academy, the dream of writing a thesis influenced my drive to study hard and pursue my academic passions.
My experiences during my semester abroad in China, my classes at West Point and the invaluable guidance from my thesis advisor Col. Tania Chacho all heavy influenced my drive to research China’s political economy. However, writing this thesis during this COVID-19 crisis was the biggest challenge I faced while social distancing.
I faced a steep learning curve while adapting to the virtual environment. From virtual meetings with my thesis advisor to focusing on my studies in a home environment, I learned to use the digital tools available to finish the thesis and look forward to graduation.
As a foreign language student, West Point gave me the irreplaceable opportunity to spend a semester at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China. I arrived at Beijing Airport alone, and I remember the sense of fascination and excitement I felt during the taxi ride to the university where I would study Chinese intensively for four months.
The Chinese Language Department at West Point is truly phenomenal; its dedication to cadets’ language learning was evident in my initial struggles to adapt to an environment where most people spoke no English. I had to use the Chinese language skills developed through hours of homework in the barracks and tough tests and quizzes in order to do simple tasks such as order food or ask for directions.
However, as I became more immersed in Chinese society, I learned to appreciate the freedoms in America that I had previously overlooked. Studying in China gave me a deeper perspective on the meaning of liberal democracy and the complex relationship between freedom and security. These reflections on the nuances of Chinese society and politics from my semester abroad only made me more curious to study the politics of China and how they affect the United States. They also have made the prospect of defending American values even more important and special as I transition to my career as an intelligence officer.
My class has found ways to finish the last few months of the West Point experience through leaning on each other and celebrating this final stretch of cadet life. My birthday occurred during the social distancing months, and many friends from my company, classes, battalion staff and other groups came together to celebrate virtually, where we dressed up in silly costumes and played virtual games.
Although we could not celebrate in person, we definitely made the most of the time we could spend together. When I return to West Point for the graduation ceremony, I look forward to spending quality time with my amazing roommate, Emily.
Her and my best friend, Josephine, really epitomize the deep bonds formed through shared struggles, and their support and faith in me have helped me through many difficult moments.
The graduation ceremony signifies the coming together of my class to celebrate each other in our experiences together and our collective dedication to the Army profession beyond.
Tossing my hat in the air will represent the realization of my ultimate vision as a cadet, which is to celebrate my time at West Point, to include all my achievements and lessons learned, and to look forward with anticipation and excitement for my career as an officer in the United States Army.