Choir Notes

From Goat to Great 
From Music and the Spoken Word
Delivered By: Lloyd D. Newell • Program 4348

For well over 200 years, the United States Military Academy at West Point, an institution filled with traditions of excellence and achievement, has observed a curious tradition on graduation day. "Every year, the last-ranking cadet to make it through to graduation is anointed the goat, showered with praise, given a dollar from every other fellow graduate—amounting to roughly $1,000—and granted the biggest applause at the graduation ceremony.”1 Some have called it the world’s most prestigious last-place award.
It may sound like an odd endorsement of underachievement, but it is actually quite the opposite. On a day when the people at the top typically get the most recognition, West Point also recognizes those who just barely survived—usually because they stubbornly refused to give up. It’s an honored tradition because it says something about the human spirit—no matter where we are right now, we can move past the labels others give us; we can improve, grow, progress, and come out just fine. In fact, it’s worth noting that, historically, West Point’s "goats” have often gone on to become successful in their chosen fields, some even to great acclaim. 
Life is a long walk on a long road, and sometimes those who have early success fizzle out and fade away, while others who seem to be at the bottom find the strength and determination to rise above their challenges.

Indeed, ranking systems have often proven to be poor indicators of future success. In all areas of life, some graduate high, some low, and some in between, but what makes the difference in life is how we choose to respond to our setbacks—and our successes. A graduation, a promotion, an award or recognition, even a label, should not be the endpoint or conclusion to a life but an opportunity and motivation to keep trying.
Remember, whether we’re doing great at the top or we’re the goat at the bottom, what matters is what we choose to do with the rest of our life.
1 "At West Point, ‘Goats’ Are an Exclusive Bunch,” Wall Street Journal, Nov. 26, 2012, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324352004578131262893535452.html.

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