Mace, of Goose Creek, S.C., finished the Charleston military school in three years. She and four other women had entered in 1996, when The Citadel dropped its all-male admission policy.
Mace was greeted with applause when she received her degree. Republican presidential candidate Pat Buchanan delivered the commencement address, telling the graduates he was honored to speak to such a unique class.
Mace, a business major, transferred credits from a community college to graduate a year early.
"She's done it all on her own with no help from daddy," said her father, retired Army Brig. Gen. J. Emory Mace, who became the school's commandant of cadets during his daughter's first year there.
"I would make an effort not to associate with her," he said. "You need to make it on your own and blend in."
Mace, 21, is taking a job with a business consulting firm in Charlotte, N.C.
"I just wanted an opportunity to join the long, gray line. I think I am paving the way for other women . . . but I don't think of myself as a pioneer," she told the The Post and Courier of Charleston earlier this week.
The Citadel now has 42 female cadets, a number expected to increase to about 90 next year, said Bonnie Jo Houchen, who graduated with the first women at the U.S. Air Force Academy and now serves as The Citadel's assistant commandant helping oversee the assimilation of women.
Shannon Faulkner sued over the all-male admissions policy and became the first woman cadet under a federal court order in 1995, but she dropped out after less than a week, citing the loneliness and stress.
The legal fight continued with other women while the state and Citadel supporters contended that all-male schools promoted diversity in education. Before the case could reach the U.S. Supreme Court, however, the justices ruled that Virginia Military Institute's all-male policy was unconstitutional.
Faced with that decision, Citadel officials decided to open the school's gates to women.
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