Building the Bridges of Tomorrow

Melissa D. BoughtonBy Midn. 2/c Melissa D. Boughton
U.S. Naval Academy Class of 2015

The women who crossed the stage and received their diplomas from the U.S. Naval Academy in May 1980, looked out upon a different landscape, a different environment and a world far different from the view at Friday’s ceremony.

The 55 female pioneers of the Great Class of 1980 were few and far between, comprising less than five percent of the total graduating class, whereas the Class of 2014 graduates 219 females – 21 percent of the class.  Those women graduating Friday follow in the footsteps of their predecessors.  They are embracing bright opportunities and chances to serve and excel in platforms and designators that were not available in 1980.  They are a new generation….inexorably linked to the women of 1980 and fiercely focused on making them proud.

Newly commissioned officers celebrate their new positions by throwing their Midshipmen covers into the air as part of the U.S. Naval Academy class of 2013 graduation and commissioning ceremony, May 24, 2013. The "hat toss," now a traditional ending to the ceremony, originated at the Naval Academy in 1912. This "hat toss" has since become a symbolic and visual end to the four-year program. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Sam Shavers/Released)

Newly commissioned officers celebrate their new positions by throwing their Midshipmen covers into the air as part of the U.S. Naval Academy class of 2013 graduation and commissioning ceremony, May 24, 2013. The “hat toss,” now a traditional ending to the ceremony, originated at the Naval Academy in 1912. This “hat toss” has since become a symbolic and visual end to the four-year program. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Sam Shavers/Released)

As a rising first class midshipman, I have witnessed the walls that these trailblazers have broken down in order to forge pathways for newcomers like myself; as well as the bridges they have built to connect the Navy to a bigger and better future. With each advancement, from the first graduates in 1980 to the first female officers to join the submarine fleet in 2010 and the promotion of the first female four-star this year, we are breaking down barriers that had once proved halting, bringing up those behind us, and creating a more diversified Navy. Today, we uphold the Chief of Naval Operations’s tenet to “Be Ready” more so than ever, with a more “diverse force,” encompassing talented and imaginative men and women from every corner of the nation, proving that when we use all of our resources we can accomplish more.

In present-day, not once will I have to experience a classroom in which I am the only female midshipmen, dress in a locker room where I alone am the “women’s team,” or live in a Bancroft Hall where there are no female company officers or senior enlisted from whom to seek answers. The bravery and dedication of the women before me to overcome those challenges and break down those walls inspires me.  It inspires my classmates. And it undoubtedly inspires the class of 2014.  The bravery and dedication of the class of 1980 has connected us all in an invaluable network.

Here in Annapolis, not only are these trailblazers celebrated for their pasts, but with the 2013 founding of the Naval Academy Women’s Network, they have become integral pieces in shaping the Navy’s and the Naval Academy’s future. The Women’s Network here provides midshipmen with mentorship from graduates who have knowledge from around the globe and every sector of the Navy, experiences that speak volumes. This insight, perspective, and mentorship are the true benefits I have reaped as a part of the younger generation. Unlike my predecessors, there are few walls left to be broken down, but one thing for sure, we will continue to build – to build on their unbreakable foundation, to build up in order to reach past new limits, and to build bridges that connect us all – not just women – but the Navy as a whole, because when we are connected we are stronger, smarter and ready to fight.

I am proud to be a woman here at the U.S. Naval Academy. I am excited to serve this great Navy in the future. And I thank you, again, Class of 1980, for what you’ve done and what you continue to do.

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Building the Bridges of Tomorrow