Sydney Barber is the first Black woman to achieve the top role of brigade commander at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, where she is tasked with leading 4,500 midshipmen until she graduates this year.
Brigade commander is the highest leadership position among midshipmen -- similar to the student body president, in civilian terms. The semester-long position is selected through an application and interview process by senior leadership and the commandant’s staff.
Barber, 21, is the 16th woman selected for brigade commander in the 44 years women have been attending the academy. The first female brigade commander was then-Midshipman Juliane Gallina, who served in the position in 1991.
History of service
Barber is a native of Lake Forest, Illinois, a suburb north of Chicago.
She always had a passion for serving her community, telling CNBC last year that while growing up she wanted to be a missionary and travel the world doing humanitarian work.
Barber took part in several missionary trips to Dayton, Ohio, to help a local African refugee community. On these trips, she helped build a basketball court, a community garden and even a home.
By the time Barber entered high school, she knew she wanted to pursue a career in service.
Barber excelled at sports in her youth, telling the Chicago Tribune last year that soccer was her "first love and much of my lifeline in middle school."
Rich Grady, her former soccer coach at Deerfield High School, told the paper that Barber’s "relentless pursuit of competition" and willingness to put in the work to play well always stood out to him.
Barber began running track when she transferred to Lake Forest High School, where she graduated in 2017.
Despite her athletic ability, Barber wasn’t recruited to play a sport for Navy.
However, through her drive and dedication, she walked onto Navy’s track team her freshman year and earned varsity letters her first three years. She’s competed in mid-distance races and relays and currently holds Navy’s record in the outdoor 4x400-meter relay.
Barber is a mechanical engineering major and aspires to commission as a Marine Corps ground officer, according to a statement from the academy.
After learning she earned the brigade commander role for the spring 2021 semester, Barber said she was humbled and hopes that her achievement can inspire others to pursue their goals.
"I have so much ambition, so much heart, and I’m not going to let anything stop me from achieving the goals that I have," Barber says in a video released by the academy.
"My role and my purpose here on this earth is to put more into the world than I take out. I feel like chasing success to me and success, in general, means nothing if I’m not looking out for the person next to me, if I don’t bring more people with me."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.