JOHNSON CITY, Miss.
(AP) For a police officer who wears a uniform that could have just as easily been called a cape, this year’s West Point graduation was a big deal.
The West Point graduate who was the first African-American to earn the prestigious honor, a first for the academy, said he was the only officer in his class to wear the uniform.
He said the uniform had nothing to do with his color, but with the work he did.
The school’s first black graduate of the class of 2021 is a national icon, but it is a little bit more complicated than that.
The uniform, which was unveiled at the school’s graduation ceremony on Saturday, also has nothing to with his race, but has a deep and abiding connection to West Point.
And so was a student who is black, who has served as a police detective for the last 12 years and who has since become the school system’s first openly black superintendent.
As he spoke, the students were busy asking him questions about the uniform and its significance.
“What is your background?” one student asked him.
“I’m not an officer, but I was a police captain,” he said.
“What is the meaning of your uniform?”
“I’ve been wearing it for the past 12 years,” he answered.
“And that’s not a bad job.”
In his speech, the superintendent noted that the uniform has become an iconic symbol for the institution.
He acknowledged that the students who came up to him after the ceremony asked questions, but he was more focused on them.
He noted that many West Point graduates have come out to wear their uniforms, including the first black officer.
“It’s a symbol of the way we live here at West Point,” he told them.
“We are proud of you.
You have made your way here because of the color of your skin.”
The uniform was designed by former West Point Police Chief Michael Naylor, who later served as the nation’s top law enforcement officer, and is made of a lightweight fabric and is designed for a uniform worn by the Army, Navy and Air Force.
The uniforms are made from nylon that is treated with a UV-resistant coating, and each is made to be as comfortable as possible.
The first black cadet to earn a West Pointers degree in 2021, Joss Thomas was the third African-Americans to earn it, joining his parents, who had earned the honor by graduating from West Point in 1972.
He served for five years as a detective in the academy’s Criminal Investigation Division, a position that has been filled by the school since 2016.
Thomas served in the United States Army from 1998 to 2004 and is now an officer with the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force and a police instructor.
The son of an African-Caribbean mother and an American father, he earned a law degree from the University of New Hampshire School of Law in 2012.
He also worked as a special education teacher in the New York City public schools.
After graduating, Thomas took an acting class at a local high school, where he was named student of the year.
After graduating, he was working as a security guard for the U.S. Army Academy at Westpoint.
Thomas, who said he would have preferred to have served more years as an officer or as a sergeant, said his background made him a better candidate for the job of superintendent.
“Being the first person in my family to graduate West Point was a huge moment in my life,” he wrote on his Facebook page, adding that he would “keep my promise to my fellow West Point officers.”
He said he felt proud to have been selected for the position.
Thomas said he has seen many black cadets before, and the West Point experience helped him prepare for the role.
“When I was at West Poinsons, I always thought I’d be a police lieutenant, and it was always something that was always there,” he recalled.
“So for me, it was a very humbling experience.”
For more on West Point, visit http://www.westpoint.edu