Alyssa Michalke leads the Corps of Cadets through campus. (Corps photo)
“The worst they can tell you is no”
Michalke’s story almost never got a chance to be told.
“Being an engineering major was a lot more work than I anticipated,” Michalke said. “I really considered dropping the Corps. I thought I was motivated and driven but everyone here was on another level.”
She would call home frequently, sometimes near midnight, to vent to her parents about her struggles. Her mother even reached out to Corps Commandant Brig. Gen. Joe Ramirez (Ret.) in an email, asking him to keep an eye on her daughter.
She ultimately decided to see the Corps through until graduation. That’s when Ramirez started seeing a change. In Michalke he saw humility, a maturity beyond her years, a penchant for teambuilding and a can-do attitude that made it easy for a group of young people to rally around her.
“People saw potential in me when I didn’t see it,” Michalke said. “Sophomore year people said I should apply to top positions when I was content to just stick it out. They told me ‘the worst they can tell you is no and you can prove them wrong if they don’t pick you.’ It helped me gain confidence even if I was sure I wasn’t fit for it.”
Much to her surprise, she landed the second-in-command role heading into her junior year. One year later, she applied with more confidence for Corps commander. Ramirez said the decision to make Michalke commander was unanimous. “It wasn’t even close,” he said.
“That was emotional. I cried my eyes out.”
Never one to brag, Michalke fails to mention that she was the first woman ever to hold the position in the 140-year history of the Corps of Cadets.
“I just wanted to give back to an organization that had given me so much,” Michalke said. “The significance of it didn’t hit me until I saw how much attention and press it got.”
When the news broke, every local news outlet and some state outlets led their coverage with Michalke’s story.
A flood of emotional phone calls, texts and emails came rushing in from women who served in the Corps when it first began accepting women in 1974.
“It sunk in that this matters a lot more to a lot of people than I could have ever imagined,” Michalke said. “After the press died down I had time to sit back and think. I can’t screw this up.”
But just as the media attention began to die down, she had already begun preparing to pass along her responsibilities to the next commander.