A record number of African American women graduated from the prestigious West Point military academy on Saturday: Of the 200 female cadets graduating, 34 were black—and they’re part of making the class of 2019 the most diverse class in the mostly white, mostly male, military academy’s 217-year history.
“I just showed myself and those who thought I could do it initially that yes, I can,” cadet Stephanie Riley told the Associated Press. “And not just, ‘yes, I can.’ I can show other little girls that, yes, you can come to West Point. Yes, you can do something that maybe the rest of your peers aren’t actually doing. And yes, you can be different from the rest of the group.”
The graduating class of African American female cadets posed for a stunning photo together that has since gone viral. In it, the women are seen in uniform as they hold up their ceremonial sabers.
Two more records for West Point were also set on graduation day: The graduating class’s 200 female cadets is the largest number since the first woman graduated in 1980, and the 2019 class also included greatest amount of Latin-Americans graduating in the school’s history with a total of 88.
Clearly, there’s still a long way to go until there’s representative diversity at West Point—1,000 cadets in total graduated on Saturday. But the grads are already thinking about the next generation.
“I want women to be soldiers,” cadet Welch-Baker told NBC. “I want these little black girls to say ‘Hey, I can do it too. I have the strength to defy the odds.’ Which is what we did. We defied the odds.”