When Michael R. Pompeo of Santa Ana arrived at the gates of the U.S. Military Academy in 1982, he was just another face in a crowd of 1,419 plebes, as freshmen are known at West Point.
That all changed this week, however, as Pompeo received the second biggest ovation of the day during graduation ceremonies for the class of 1986.
Among the 973 men and women who survived four rigorous years to receive their diplomas and gold bars as U.S. Army second lieutenants, Pompeo walked off the parade field Wednesday with top honors.
The 23-year-old son of Wayne and Dorothy Pompeo finished first scholastically in his West Point class. Pompeo also received the Gen. Robert E. Wood award as the distinguished cadet, as well as the Gen. Winfield S. Scott Memorial Award for highest achievement in engineering management, which was his field of study at the academy.
Pompeo also excelled at leadership, "which is what they are here for," said West Point spokeswoman Andrea Hamburger. Pompeo spent his senior year as a company commander in charge of 120 other cadets.
Hamburger said the largest ovation at Wednesday's commencement went, as is tradition, to the "class goat," the cadet who finished last. This year's "goat" was William E. Ward of Pensacola, Fla., a member of Pompeo's company.
Pompeo was a varsity basketball player at Los Amigos High School, where in 1982 he graduated third in his class of 285 with a 3.9 grade-point average and gave the valedictory address. He received the Bank of America science and mathematics award and the Elks National Foundation scholarship.
After his West Point graduation and commissioning, Pompeo will report to Ft. Knox, Ky., for 16 weeks of armor training before being assigned to an Army unit in West Germany.
But he took time out Friday to marry Leslie Libert of Islip, N.Y., in ceremonies on Long Island.