Since 1876, Texas A&M University has been unleashing a steady arsenal of driven people into service. Former alumni include James Earl Rudder, the historic commander of Allied forces during the battle for Pointe Du Hoc during the Normandy invasion; Texas Governor Rick Perry; and an incredible seven Medal of Honor recipients. At the newer Galveston campus, cadets in their junior year apply for the coveted cadet core commander position, which is the highest-ranking cadet. Cole Manders was selected for the graduating class of 2017.

Cole grew up in the great state of Alabama. He was raised Catholic, by two loving and hard-working parents. He was a typical southern boy who fished, hunted, and played football. On the outside, he had it going on. However, by the time he was a sophomore in college, a secret he’d kept since he was five years old began affecting him physically. Like so many others, depression, anger, sleep loss, and paranoia impacted his everyday life.

Realizing the destructive nature of that skeleton, he wasted no time in doing something about it. In fact, he says, “I didn’t just come out of the closet, I sprinted out.” From that moment, a burden as grim as shouldering a decaying corpse was finally laid to rest.

Cole isn’t just important because he is likely to be one of the first openly gay cadet core commander in a school renowned for its conservatism. Cole’s importance rests in the history of men and women who, at great cost, cleared a path for him. He didn’t let a stereotype define him—family, faith, and honor do. The significance of Manders being gay is that it’s becoming more and more insignificant, and that’s how we advance as a civilization. Still, before we bust out the guitar and sing Kumbaya, there is a lot of work to be done.

Young men and women like Cole are the future of our military. They must come together with courage and the strength to build bridges in places where there is separation. They become leaders who support diversity and celebrate the many things that could unite us. This is a generation with the tools to transcend a singular selfish perspective, and see the world for its sum.

When he graduates this year, Cole will receive a bachelor’s of science degree in marine transportation, with a minor in maritime administration. The six core values of an Aggie are excellence, integrity, leadership, loyalty, respect, and selfless service—principles he’ll undoubtedly carry with him as he starts his career.

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