West Point's 'Goat' Isn't the Greatest, It's the Last in Class

By: Dave Roos  | 
Dominic Distefano West Point Goat
West Point graduate Dominic Distefano is congratulated after being named the Goat (the last in his class) during the 2021 West Point commencement ceremony. Disetefano received a bag of cash from his fellow cadets as part of his honor. U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin (left of Distefano) returned to his alma mater to deliver the commencement address. Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

In sports, G.O.A.T. status is reserved for the "Greatest of All Time" — the likes of Michael Jordan, Muhammad Alior Jim Brown. At the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York, being the "Goat" means something very different.

Every May, when roughly 1,000 "firsties" (as seniors are called) graduate from the famously rigorous program, the loudest cheers are reserved for the Goat, the cadet who finished dead last in the class with the lowest overall GPA.


"It is definitely an honor; it is in no way a joke," said James Robbins, author of "Last in Their Class: Custer, Pickett and the Goats of West Point," in an interview with the radio show "The Takeaway." At West Point, where plenty of cadets "wash out" (flunk out or quit) years before graduation, there's a genuine respect for the cadet who teetered closest to the edge but came out on top.

The Goat not only receives a rousing applause, but also a bag stuffed with dollar bills, one from each member of the graduating class. This totals nearly $1,000.

As the title of Robbins' book suggests, two of the most famous Goats in West Point history were George Armstrong Custer (of Custer's Last Stand fame) and Confederate General George Pickett. Custer refused to take his studies seriously, regularly sneaking out to go drinking and playing pranks on fellow cadets. At the 1861 West Point graduation ceremony, Custer admitted as much.

"My career as a cadet had but little to recommend it to the study of those who came after me," Custer told the graduating class, "unless as an example to be carefully avoided."

Cadet Korian Brady was honored as the West Point Goat
Cadet Korian Brady is honored as the West Point Goat during the U.S. Military Academy Class of 2019 graduation ceremony. U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, who gave the commencement address, is seen honoring Brady.
David Dee Delgado/Getty Images)

But as Custer's example proves, being a Goat doesn't prevent West Point graduates from rising to the highest ranks of the military, or from winning the Medal of Honor, the Army's highest honor for valor in combat. Robbins believes that Goats possess certain intangible qualities — a penchant for thinking "outside of the box" and for improvising their way out of trouble — that translate into success in battle and in life.


Other Military Academies With 'Last in Class' Traditions

The Army isn't the only branch of the military to honor the graduate with the lowest GPA. The U.S. Naval Academy calls its last-in-class honoree the "anchor man." Similar to the Goat, the anchor man receives a dollar from his fellow midshipmen and is awarded a plaque for "Forever Holding the Ship in Place." No one knows the identity of the anchor man until graduation day, when a small anchor is placed under his chair. (The Naval Academy's mascot is a goat which may explain why West Point uses that term for its last-place finisher. The two schools have a fierce rivalry.)

The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy has a similar anchor tradition, where the graduate receives a container of all the coins tossed into a lucky fountain on campus during finals week.


The U.S. Air Force Academy used to celebrate their own last man as the class "Tailgunner," according to graduates who attended the academy in the 1970s and 1980s, but the tradition seems to have died out (or been banned by the Air Force brass).