The culture behind West Point’s alma mater


Dr. Scott Kruse

It is difficult for me to communicate the depth of the faux pas from Saturday’s post-game event. It transcends courtesy and ventures into cultural violation. I wrote this in recognition of the cultural divide between our populations.

Following games, cadets, the Army Team, alumni, and family assemble to share in singing the Alma Mater. West Point graduates share a lineage of service and honor that dates to 1803 when President Jefferson founded the Academy. Upon graduation, West Point graduates begin a lifetime of service to the nation by entering the armed services. During this arduous and dangerous service, they travel around the world and separate from families to defend our Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Along the way, we lose comrades: brothers, sisters, friends and family. As we age, these losses become more profound as we assemble and share stories.

When West Pointers assemble, we cherish the time together, particularly when we sing The Alma Mater. Win or lose, graduates assemble around the Army Band. A few notes gain everyone’s attention, headgear is removed, and voices join together for at least one verse. We join voices as comrades who span more than a half century: graduates who all served our nation and are still serving in some capacity. While singing, we are transported back to our time as cadets. We remember those who stood next to us then, but who are no longer. We grip hands with gray spirits across ages, and we join in both solemnity and celebration. We are honored by our past, thrilled about the present, and look forward to the future in which we will continue to serve our nation. We pay homage to each other and to our alma mater.

On Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019, a particular combination of cadets and graduates came together for the game against UTSA: a combination that can never be duplicated. We were thrilled to be there. We enjoyed the game. But when the UTSA football team immediately departed the field after their alma mater, the UTSA band immediately started playing a celebratory concert:

This robbed us of our sacred and honored tradition singing The Alma Mater as a group. Despite the intrusion, our small band played, and a few grads around them heard and sung, but the majority of us could not hear. We cannot get this moment back, and for this our lives are not as rich as they could have been. But we will drive on with honor and continue to serve, as is our commitment: Our duty compels us.