Duty, honor, country: Jenny Wang’s journey through West Point

Julia Robbins, Staff Writer

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When Jenny Wang ’16 visited the United States Military Academy (USMA) in elementary school, little did she know that just a decade later, she would be well into her third year at one of the nation’s most prestigious military institutions.

Wang first looked into the Academy after a family friend suggested she might be in interested in USMA, also known as West Point. The summer before her senior year, she participated in the Summer Leaders Experience (SLE) at West Point.

According to the West Point website, the SLE “gives high school juniors a week to experience life as a cadet to inform their college selection decision.” After completing SLE, Wang decided she wanted to attend the Academy. If she did not like it, Wang knew she could transfer within two years of joining West Point, she said.

That transfer never came. Wang was able to complete her first year, Plebe Year, and is now a third year or “Cow.”

“Plebe year is the easiest year because you have literally no responsibilities to anybody but yourself,” Wang said. As cadets advance through their years at West Point, they take on more responsibilities and are in charge of more people.

The most challenging part of Plebe Year is managing all the duties plebes are assigned, Wang said. These duties include taking out upperclassmen’s trash, announcing menus at meal times, and mopping hallway floors.

“You have to make what you can of it, because it’s easy to get caught up in how miserable every day is on a day-to-day basis: waking up at five o’clock in the morning and working until midnight or one or two in the morning,” Wang said.

As a woman at West Point, Wang hasn’t experienced any outright sexism, but “there’s the subtle, every day, underlying hints that it’s very much still a guys’ game,” Wang said. One of the biggest points of dispute between cadets at West Point surrounds the different physical standards for men and women, she said.

Many of the highest standards for women are at the lowest acceptable level for men, which is “always a big source of contention,” Wang said.

The physical aspect of West Point has been the hardest for Wang, who was not an athlete growing up. Because so many other cadets were athletes, Wang works “three times as hard as other people to get to where they are,”she said.

But Wang has kept a positive attitude throughout all of the challenges of West Point.

“It’s a good time,” she said. Since the beginning of Plebe Year, Wang has been part of a company of around 120 cadets with whom she lives, cleans, and eats. They are like “your little family when you’re here,” Wang said.

“I have a great company,” she said, “I’ve made really amazing connections with really amazing people.”

Wang has also sought out friends who are hard-working, passionate, of good character, and who know how to have a good time, she said. “Most importantly, they care about other people, and they care about me,” Wang said.

“It’s the people here that really make or break your experience, and I’ve had a really lucky, fortunate experience with the people that I’ve worked with,” Wang said.

Wang’s friendships at West Point are much more meaningful and impactful than those she formed at Horace Mann, she said.

“I think that’s partially just being part of this institution together and going through stuff that your normal 20 to 21-year-old doesn’t go through,” she said. “It’s knowing that you graduate and commission at 22, and it’s very possible that by the age of 23, you’re going to be deployed.”

“We’re all working towards this super awesome, common goal, and it’s awesome to do it with people who you love and who support you while you’re doing it. There’s no other reason why you would do it,” Wang said.

Wang is a Life Science major and has been conducting research since her Plebe Year. She has attended multiple national science conferences and currently has two works under review for publication.

One of the papers is about integrating graphene and platinum to create nanowire for super capacitor applications, while the other discusses metalizing silk to give it electric properties.

West Point gave Wang more self-confidence and improved her ability to develop meaningful relationships with other people, she said. She also has become better at following through with goals and leading in a more effective manner.

“I’m 5’ foot 2” and 112 pounds; yelling and screaming just makes me look like an angry toddler,” Wang said. “It’s just finding out what kind of leadership style works best for you.”

Wang’s plan for her future is to apply to medical school and then serve in the Army as a doctor.