How US Army Second Lieutenant Emma Powless ‘16 Inspires Me

After attending West Point and going through Ranger School, SLS alumna Emma Powless has come out stronger than ever.

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Courtesy of Emma Powless ’16.

Abby Thomas '23, Sports Editor

On April 24, Elyse Kim ‘21 and St. Luke’s Director of Alumni Relations Ms. Veneruso hosted St. Luke’s alumna Emma Powless ‘16 for a Zoom interview as part of this year’s Virtual Homecoming. Emma went to the United States Military Academy at West Point for college, and was commissioned into the US Army as a Second Lieutenant after her graduation in 2020. In early April 2021, she graduated from Ranger School, a grueling two-month course where soldiers are trained in combat-related skills. Even further, Emma is one of only 67 women who have completed this feat!

I attended the Zoom call Saturday morning with no idea of how awe-inspiring Emma’s story would be. The call was structured like an interview, with Elyse asking many compelling questions and Emma sharing about her time at St. Luke’s, West Point, and Ranger School. While listening, I was fascinated with Emma’s stories and her pure perseverance. She told us that every day of Ranger School, she wanted to quit. But she thought about the people who came before her and the people with her in the moment and continued to push herself. Just one more day, and then I’ll quit, she thought. But she never did.

Emma not only persisted through one of the hardest training programs in the country, but she also led the group on a few occasions. Emma shared how she has always been a calm and collected person, but on the first night she was in charge, everything went downhill. She couldn’t control the group (specifically sleep-walkers and food-deprived soldiers), and began to panic. Afterwards, Emma’s supervisors told her that she could be a strong leader, but she needed to take her time and stay calm. The next time Emma was given a leadership position, she performed beautifully. She was able to handle those who were wandering off the path, and she didn’t lose her patience. 

Ranger School is dangerous, and one wouldn’t think that a person could come out the other side. My favorite thing that Emma said on the call was “You are capable of so much more than you think.” I’ve heard quotes like that before, but it carries so much more weight coming from Emma because she lived through something that she didn’t think she was capable of overcoming. 

Emma’s resilience and determination to improve herself are two admirable qualities. If I had been put in her position, not only would I have probably given up, but I also don’t think I could have controlled all those other soldiers. They barely slept or ate, so having the responsibility of keeping them alive and safe would be overwhelming. I can’t even fathom the strength and grit Emma must have had during Ranger School.

Emma is a newfound hero of mine, and I will strive to live my life as courageously as she has. She not only went through one of the most challenging experiences imaginable, but she did it with such grace that, as she was speaking to us, I could tell how grounded she is. As St. Luke’s students, we should take more risks, whether it’s applying to a military school or simply joining a sport that you’ve never played before. We can emulate Emma’s bravery to help us improve the way we live our lives moving forward. She showed me what being a leader means and that if you put in enough effort and put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything.