First black women to graduate from Corps of Cadets
They came here for different reasons -- for the structured educational environment, to prepare for a career in the military, for the challenge, and even because mom said so.
But on May 11 when the first black female cadets to graduate from The Citadel walk away from The Military College of South Carolina and into the world that awaits them, they will do so knowing they've accomplished something unique.
"We are paving the way for other black women, any women really, to have the chance to be here," said Toshika "Peaches" Hudson of Columbia, S.C. "It may motivate or inspire some other young lady to do the same."
Hudson, a company commander and star on the track and cross country teams, is one of seven African American women poised to be the first black female cadets to get their Citadel diplomas this May. Standing proudly with her will be Renee Hypolite of Philadelphia, Pa.; Natosha Mitchell of Dyersburg, Tenn.; Geneive Hardney of Staten Island, N.Y.; Lesjanusar "Sha" Peterson of Chicago, Ill.; Adrienne Watson of Sanford, N.C.; and Jamey McCloud of Wadmalaw Island, S.C.
Their graduation comes 32 years after the first African American man joined the long gray line, that is, the long line of Citadel alumni. Charles Foster was the first black cadet to graduate from The Citadel in 1970.
The Citadel, founded in 1842, is a coeducational military college located in Charleston, S.C. The institution offers young men and women a college experience that is intense, meaningful, academically strong and focused on leadership training.
A classic military college, The Citadel emphasizes a strict indoctrination for first-year students who are called "knobs." Despite the challenges, cadets value that first year for the lessons in teamwork, self-discipline and time management. The disciplined lifestyle that begins in the knob year binds cadets into a lifelong, close-knit camaraderie that is one of the strongest forces in their lives after graduation.
The Citadel admitted its first class of four women in fall 1996. Today there are nearly 100 women in the South Carolina Corps of Cadets. A dozen are already among the thousands of alumni living all over the nation and world. The Class of 2002 includes 20 women and 278 men who are scheduled to receive diplomas Saturday, May 11.
Charting a new course as women, not to mention African-America women, attending a once all-male college has been difficult. Minorities make up 19 percent of the student body.
But no matter who you are, The Citadel is a challenging environment. And these women found lessons in the challenges they've faced.
Peterson, who serves on the regimental staff this year, said The Citadel prepares people for life. "I believe being here has been an eye opener and an experience in dealing with people who are different from myself," she said.
Said McCloud: "The value of a Citadel education is knowing that I can go anywhere and compete with anyone and be able to achieve and succeed as well as they can."
"What's significant is I have kept my head strong," said Hardney.
Said Watson: "My father has instilled in me to never let anyone tell you what you can't do. To know that I was among the first black females to break the race and sex barrier makes me proud."
Mitchell, when asked what she would tell other young women, particularly black women considering a Citadel education, said: "Nothing worth having is easy to come by. There will be bad days, weeks and months where you will call home for someone to come get you. Everyone goes through it. You have to come here with the mentality that you belong here and nothing is going to make you leave."
Like Peterson, Watson is preparing for a military career after graduation. She's headed into the Army. Peterson is going into the Air Force. It was the military that actually prompted Watson to attend The Citadel.
Hypolite had also planned on a military career but wants to go straight to medical school instead.
"If you want to be successful in the real world, come to The Citadel first," she said. "Learn from the different issues here, deal with them and when you succeed here, you will succeed out there. "