Saturday, January 22, 2022

Women’s History Month: Jamestown H.S. student recognized for documentary about first female West Point grads

Kathryn Miller receives a high honor from the AWF for her documentary on the first women to graduate from West Point. (WYDaily/Courtesy of Kathryn Miller)

WILLIAMSBURG — Kathryn Miller is a military B.R.A.T., or, “Born Rough and Tough.”

Her father is on active duty and her mother is a U.S. Army veteran. Throughout her young life, she has been a student in eight different schools.

Before moving to Virginia this past summer, she previously lived in Tennessee, California, New York, Alaska, Texas, Florida, Hawaii and Pennsylvania.

“It’s helped me learn how to adapt and make the most of every opportunity because I understand that time is limited,” she said. 

Ever since she was in the fourth grade, Miller has had a passion for video production. While living in Hawaii, she was in a few episodes of the series Magnum P.I., where she got a real sense for what a television set is like.

Now a sophomore at Jamestown High School, she is already an award-winning filmmaker and the youngest person to ever be inducted into the U.S. Army Women’s Foundation’s Hall of Fame Special Recognition of Champions.

Along with her friend, Kailyn Rowland, Miller wrote, directed and produced a documentary entitled, “Women at West Point: Breaking Barriers of the Long Gray Line,” which tells the story of the first women to graduate from the United States Military Academy West Point

The honor was part of AWF’s 13th Annual Scholarship Awards and Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, which was held virtually on March 8.

This award reflects the foundation’s mission to honor the history of Army women and celebrate trailblazers in the branch. This year’s theme was “Honoring Army Women: Connecting with the Past and Empowering the Future.” 

Reconnecting

The world for the U.S. Army is a small one.

While attending her freshman year at Carlisle High School in Pennsylvania, Miller reconnected with Rowland, her best friend from West Point Elementary School in New York, where the pair attended preschool together.

The two partnered for the 2020 National History Day (NHD), having a joint vision of what they wanted to do. 

“As soon as we heard the theme of Breaking Barriers, we instantly knew we wanted to do something about women in the military because so many women have broken barriers throughout the military,” Miller said.

That same year also happened to be the 40th anniversary of the first co-ed class graduation at the United States Military Academy West Point, making the project all the more special. 

Preschool friends Kathryn and Kailyn reconnected at Carlisle High School to partner up for National History Day. (WYDaily/Courtesy of Kathryn Miller)

Miller first learned the true significance of the first female class when her parents reconnected with one of their Brigade Commanders from their time in the military.

The commander attended the U.S. Military Academy in 1978, which meant he spent two years with and two years without women at the school.   

“It never even occurred to me that there was a United States Military Academy without women,” Miller said, adding that she grew up watching female cadets at the West Point graduation and in her Dad’s classes. “It never occurred to me that there was a time when females weren’t allowed in the academy.” 

(WYDaily/Courtesy of Kathryn Miller) Kathryn and Kailyn met with Cadet Molly Golden to document how the academy has changed since the class of 1980.

Together, Miller and Rowland researched the first women to attend the academy. The two were able to get in touch with retired U.S. Army Major Kathy Silvia, who was among the first class of women to graduate from West Point in 1980.

A true trailblazer, Silvia was one of the women to pave the path for others in the military. She stuck with Miller and Rowland throughout the whole process, inviting them into her home to share her past with them. 

“She was wearing her cadet uniform, and had all of her memorabilia and scrapbooks out, and she spent hours giving her account. It was unforgettable,” Miller said. “She always wanted to make sure we were historically accurate.”

“She was really a great mentor for Kailyn and me,” she added.

Kathryn Miller visited the home of retired Army major Kathy Silvia during her research for her documentary. (WYDaily/Courtesy of Kathryn Miller)

While researching, Miller said that she and Rowland felt a strong support for the women they spoke to; each of them having their own stories.

“The hardest part of doing this project is we got countless pages of interviews and so much footage,” Miller said. “So many female cadets sent in so much memorabilia and we had to fit it all into 10 minutes for the NHD rule book. But there’s so much more to it than just the 10 minutes.”

The documentary won first place at the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s 2020 National History Day Competition and was advanced to compete at the national level in June of that year. 

In her speech during the ceremony, Miller spoke about her mom, Amanda Miller, as being her inspiration. 

“I’ve always looked up to her. She was Airborne, so I always knew my mom jumped out of planes, so she can do anything,” Kathryn Miller said. “We got the letter and we were both in tears, it meant so much to both of us.”

For Miller, making the project was not about the awards and recognition. 

“It really spoke to me and made me feel proud of the work Kailyn and I did, and it wouldn’t have been possible without these women,” Miller said. “It was always about sharing an accurate story and telling the story of these incredible women because we’re so grateful for what they’ve done for us.”

You can view her documentary, “Women at West Point: Breaking Barriers of the Long Gray Line,” below or on YouTube by clicking here

 

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