Dr. Grace Chung

“West Point was a frequent place for field trips and sightseeing. I saw it a million times, I never really thought I was gonna be part of it. On my first day, I came with two bags. I didn’t know you were only supposed to carry stuff with your left hand. In the military, you hold everything with your left hand so your right hand is free to salute. I was the first one in line to be yelled at. Never in my life did I think anyone would be that in-your-face. My wake-up call was immediate. The Academy—and the military in general—is centered around accountability. You’re not just responsible for yourself; the repercussions of your choices have effects on everybody. One little mistake can be disastrous. My room was on the 6th floor. We didn’t have elevators—we had to run up the stairs. One morning, we had a 10-mile road march. They would always run an inspection beforehand to make sure we had everything in our bags. I forgot my canteen. They told me, ‘Chung, you better run up those stairs and grab it!’ Everyone in my platoon—30+ people—are in pushup positions with 20 lb. bags on their backs, waiting for me to come back down… It took 15 to 20 minutes. I was like, ‘Oh my god, they’re all going to hate me.’ When I got back down, I got a poke in the ribs and was told not to let it happen again… Funny story, my brother was nearby, at Cornell University, when I twisted my ankle and went to the medic. The medic saw the name on my shirt, and asked, ‘Oh, you have a brother?’ I told him I did. He said, ‘Here?’ I thought he meant NY, so I said yes. He told me he had seen him at the Academy. I was ecstatic. I thought he hitched a ride on a tour bus. The medic takes me to the hallway and calls for ‘Chung.’ Two guys come running out, neither is my brother, but they’re both Andrew Chung. We get shoved into a room together, and I actually end up marrying one of them… Going to dental school presented a vast difference between being responsible for others and just being responsible for myself. I could study with others, but my failure wasn’t going to cause someone else to fail. I no longer had anxiety that my actions would mess things up for others. I had learned to be physically tough at West Point—to take a beating and never cry—but now I faced new challenges. I didn’t think I was mentally tough, but dental school taught me I was.”