When I first heard about the exchange program between West Point cadets and students at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), I was intrigued and curious. I’ve always admired the discipline of anyone who knows at 18 they want to attend a military college, and I also have a deep appreciation for the creativity and focus of chefs. Still, I thought of the two groups as being polar opposites. The more we dug into the story, the more I understood how wrong I was.
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Yes, the cadets are dedicated and focused, but so are the student chefs. As for that creativity, it’s essential for problem solving, whether in a kitchen or on a battlefield. In reality, these 20-somethings have more in common with one another than they likely do with your typical college student. They’re also fantastic team players. In the military and in a restaurant, there are a number of important players, each working toward a common goal. But if that entire team doesn’t work together, everyone loses. It’s an important reminder for the rest of us.
Anyone who knows what they want to do in their life — and is prepared to commit to it right out of high school — clearly has dedication, drive and a sense of purpose that is not only remarkable, but rare at that age. The students seemed to recognize these shared values right away. They loved showing off their schools, proudly educating their exchange partners as they toured the campus, sat in on classes and shared basic skills, with their partners asking thoughtful questions along the way.
One of the things that struck me was how "normal" they all are. For all of their dedication, these are still college students. They’re on Facebook, they like to go out with their friends, they love their smart phones and they worry about the next step for their future. They seemed to connect with one another immediately. We didn’t need to tell them to "forget the cameras," as they were so focused on the reason they were together — this exchange and its myriad opportunities — that they barely gave us a second look. We, however, actively focused on them, listening in on their conversations.
It was a privilege to witness, and a great peek into two very important schools, helping to groom tomorrow’s leaders. Remember these cadets and student chefs, as this is not the last you’ve heard from them.