Every opportunity to interact with cadets brings me great joy. Not every interaction is equally pleasant, for me or the student, but each opportunity is a reason to rejoice, and magnifies my sense of purpose. With the upcoming decennial reaccreditation (the visit is just one year away), master planning in full swing, studying the feasibility of a campaign to increase the breadth and scope of our access scholarships, and a variety of leadership opportunities on boards and associations, there is a pull to spend time on "more strategic" matters. My body, mind, and spirit though, and the most rewarding part of my job, will always center on the individual cadet experience.
My workday ended by watching the Prep Lacrosse team handily defeat the Miller School, just two days after a victory over Benedictine. The day after the Benedictine win I had a voicemail from a gentleman whose bad timing put him behind the entire team as he entered McDonald's to pick up dinner for he and his wife. He was impressed by the demeanor and maturity of our team, and called to tell me that the team decided that he should go to the head of the line...so he wouldn't be late getting home with dinner.
This morning I received an email from the mother of a visiting middle school lacrosse player, who shared that she was impressed by the hospitality and good manners of a small group of 9th and 10th grade cadets. She said "it is infrequent that a group of students would strike up a conversation with visiting spectators and parents, and I wanted to commend you on having such a fine group of young men - all of them - nearly a dozen who had stopped to support the team were friendly and welcoming." What a great way to start my day...
Just before leaving my office for the lacrosse game, COL Chris Nothnagle brought a member of our Woodworking Club, Cadet Rodriquez, by my office to show off a project he'd completed. He created a wooden bowl, blending cherry and mahogany...a gift for his mother. Betsy stopped by at the same time (to get me out of the office and to the sporting events) and we both told this young man just how much his mother was going to love the gift.
I also learned this week that one of our cadets earned his Eagle Scout rank...congratulations to Cadet Aaron Pekala who passed his Board of Review, and will soon receive his Court of Honor. Becoming an Eagle Scout in April of 1969 is one of my proudest achievements...certainly laying the groundwork for the work to follow.
I told a few people this week that the many challenges and opportunities here have led me to read from two different "daily devotionals" in addition to the scripture reading I receive by email each morning from www.biblegateway.com. One of the readings happened to include the Parable of the Talents. I used this story when speaking with a young cadet I will call Isaiah earlier this week.
This young man is bright, a gifted athlete, and has a biblical name. An expression I've used often is that "to those who much is given, much is expected." God wants us to use all our talents...and those who have more talent must give back even more...just as Jesus shared in this parable. The parable suggests that failure to use one's gifts could result in judgment, but it seems to me that it just makes sense that if one is provided gifts, they should never remain in darkness, but be nurtured and brought fully into the light.
I did my best to convince this young man to make full use of all the gifts available to him...encouraging him to allow Fork Union Military Academy to do what it does best, which is to build character and teach leadership in a setting that encourages mental, physical, and spiritual growth. Our system works best when the cadets acknowledge and accept its value, and give their all.
The good weather brought with it increased military drill, and the issuing of demilitarized M-1's for the upcoming parades. Military drill teaches teamwork, leadership, followership, precision, pride, and even patience. I've always enjoyed parades, and the Sunday pass-in-reviews exemplify the military character of our school, and illustrate the simplicity of chain of command and accountability. My son recently sent me a copy of a picture that used to hang in his room, that he passed along to his son...the challenge is that now I need to tell James Scott the names of all those marching with me.
The picture brought back great memories of full honors ceremonies on the White House lawn during the President Carter administration, and I post it here as proof that I actually did my share of parades and ceremonies, earning the privilege of now watching and reviewing. It is indeed an honor to officiate at each review, whether here at Fork Union, or each Friday afternoon at the United States Coast Guard Academy.
This week brought many opportunities to mentor cadets, and it was refreshing to see what a little warmth and sunshine did to bring smiles to their faces. Chaplain Benson walked around the campus on Monday afternoon taking pictures...and showed them during Chapel services on Tuesday, entitling his message "Think about living life like someone is pointing a camera at you."
His point, which was evident in each picture, was that when a camera points toward us we typically smile, and want to look and act our very best. He suggested that God has a camera on us all the time...
As much as the cadets bring me joy, this school is also blessed with fine faculty, staff, and administrators. In an upcoming blog, I will feature those who are electing to retire this year, which looks to be a year of transition. We'll bring in good people, and there is significant interest by many who embrace our mission of educating, developing, and inspiring young men to lead with character. I will close the blog with excerpts from one of the retirement letters:
"I have loved this school since the first time I came here...I could not have had a better place to raise my children and spend [many] years employed. I have made the dearest and best friends here, both faculty and staff and cadets, past and present. I have met people here who some would only dream of meeting.
I have seen young boys come through the gates and leave as men. FUMA not only instills high standards for its students, but also for its employees. I know that I am a better person for having been a part of this great school for so many years.
I want to leave knowing I did my best and hoping that I may have made a difference along the way. I think that is the way everyone should leave. I pray that the future of FUMA is bright and that it will flourish in the coming years."