Photo: Cadet Cyleigh Gaynor holds her flute in front of Carnegie Hall

Former Regimental Commander Gene Ward ’49 established a scholarship in memory of his wife, Grace. It helped Cyleigh Gaynor ’21 stay in school

NORWICH RECORD | Summer 2020

Cyleigh Gaynor began playing music when she was 5. In fifth grade, she picked up the flute, which she has played in the NUCC Regimental Band since freshman year. But never in all that time, not once — not even in her wildest dreams — did she ever imagine that one day she would perform at Carnegie Hall.

“Growing up in Arizona, Carnegie’s more like a dream, not a reality, because it’s just so far away,” Gaynor said in a phone interview from her sister’s home in Sarasota, Florida. where she was completing the remainder of her spring semester remotely.

But in early March, just before the COVID-19 pandemic upended life in NYC and around the country, Gaynor joined her fellow Regimental Band musicians to play at the storied venue. The experience was “amazing” and “crazy exciting,” she said.

It’s not the first time Norwich has helped Gaynor reach beyond her wildest dreams. The mechanical engineering major says her time on the Hill has been nothing short of “life-changing” and transformational on nearly every level—physically, emotionally and intellectually.

She lost 60 pounds as a rook. She also grew far more confident. Having cast her natural shyness aside, she is now comfortable leading small groups. Currently on an Air Force commissioning track, she plans to become an air¬craft maintenance officer after graduation.

It is career aspiration hatched from a very early age while growing up near Arizona’s famous aircraft boneyard, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. “I fell in love with planes,” she recalled. “My goal since I was very little [was] to learn how planes work and build them and fix them.”

Gaynor says candidly that she comes from a poor family and that she had to take out a big loan to cover her first year at Norwich. She wasn’t sure that she could do that again the following summer in order to return her sophomore year.

But thanks to Gene Ward ’49, she didn’t have to. Gaynor received a scholarship endowed by the former regimental commander in memory of his wife, Grace. “It wasn’t a massive amount, but it made a huge difference,” Gaynor says. Staying at Norwich enabled her to continue her personal transformation and growth, she says, and now anything seems possible.

Ward planned to attend the Regimental Band’s March concert at Carnegie Hall. But he wisely scrapped those plans as the coronavirus pandemic grew more serious. Gaynor says she is disappointed that she didn’t get to meet Ward personally to thank him. But if she had, this is what she wanted to say: “Thank you for the chance, for making sure I was able to stay at Norwich. It’s been … life-changing.”

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