December 3, 2010
It doesn’t happen often, but every once in a while I experience something outside of the world of running that simply takes my breath away. Today was one of those days…
I had the honor of presenting an award to a retiring dean of the United States Military Academy, known more familiarly to most as West Point. Dr. Kent Laudeman, Vice Dean of Administration, was retiring, and would be moving back to the place of his roots in the midwest. He has served a combined 29 years (and in several capacities) for the United States Army and “The Point,” and is a most esteemed and respected citizen in this community of heroes.
Today Kent would be sent off in grand style, with a formal ceremony taking place in the Haig Room of Jefferson Hall. The room could be described as the penthouse apartment of the building – beautiful wood floors, lots of ornate details, and glass walls all around.
The ceremony began promptly at 1500 hours (3:00pm to us civvies), and as any military cermony would, it was conducted with the highest level of formality and respect.
After some opening remarks by the moderator, and a couple of presentations to Kent from the women’s volleyball and basketball programs, Brigadier General Timothy Trainor assumed the podium. General Trainor is the Dean of the USMA, having been installed in August of this year as the youngest Dean (at age 49) that the Academy has ever had. He is a very charismatic man, and spent the next 15 minutes warmly engaging the audience with words of Dr. Laudeman’s many virtues and accomplishments. I couldn’t help but be awed by the beauty and strength of his words.
And then, after a series of awards and gifts that were presented to Kent from the Academy itself, it was my turn to speak. I had jotted a few notes, but didn’t want to rehearse a speech for fear of it coming across as just that – rehearsed. So knowing essentially what I wanted to say, I talked off the cuff about Kent and his involvement in the local running community. I spoke of his eight (8) years as a fixture on the running scene here in the Hudson Valley. With Kent’s competetive yet even-tempered nature, extolling his many virtues was easier than falling off a log.
I concluded my words about Kent by telling the story of a race that I had run years ago, and a mad dash to the finish line that he and I had had (with him nipping me in the last 25 yards). I had perceived him on that day in September of 2003 as a “middle-aged” man, only to learn upon seeing the posted race results that his age was actually 60! I told the audience that Kent has taught me several lessons, but the most notable of which was that 60 is the new ‘middle-age.’
And with my words completed, I had the honor of presenting him with a trophy as a token of our own gratitude for the many contributions he has made to local running.
Moments later, Kent stepped to the front of the room and began his address to all of the colleagues, friends and supporters who had gathered today to celebrate his achievements at the Academy. He began and ended his speech with some stanzas of a poem by Robert Frost called “The Road Not Taken.” His words were filled with emotion, and yet he still managed to put them forth with great poise. To everyone in the room, there was a clear understanding that before us today was a man of commitment, dedication, and much gratitude.
Upon completing his long list of ‘thank yous” (with the final one being to the Orange Runners Club and the running community in general), the room broke into a standing ovation.
As I was indulging in some of the post-ceremony food, General Trainor approached me and thanked me for coming. He told me about some of his own personal running history, and how he had done some PT by pushing his children in a baby jogger, much in the way that I had. But on the contrary, it was I who owed thanks – to Kent, to the General, and to the West Point community for doing me the honor of inviting me to this storied campus.
As I left the building and walked back to my car, I took with me the sense of awe and grandeur that this wonderful institution can’t help but invoke in a person. I had been a part of West Point history today – albeit a small one – and it made me feel proud.
Proud to be a runner. Proud to be an American runner.