We start the year with 426 cadets. All-in-all an excellent starting number, particularly considering the quality of the students as measured by their entering GPAs and test scores. This is my third "beginning of school" as President, and this has been by far the smoothest and most pleasant yet.
My "convocation" remarks are posted at the end of this blog. During those remarks I told the cadets that everyone in the room had the brains, the character, and the physical stamina to succeed. We are very pleased with this year's Corps of Cadets, all of whom will benefit from our program of education, development, and inspiration.
Classes started Friday, and that same evening our soccer team scrimmaged (and defeated) Fishburne Military School. Before the match, two cadets on the team ran over to thank Betsy and me for supporting the team. Their composure, maturity, and poise reminded me of the Coast Guard Academy, when student athletes would occasionally do the same thing.
Saturday was another class day and our first home Prep Football game. Our team played with great character during one of the hottest football games in recent memory, and the entire Corps cheered them on. One of our graduates from last year, Christian Hackenberg, led his team to victory as the starting quarterback for Penn State. There is a great article about character and leadership development at FUMA in their college newspaper.
The transformation of Hatcher Hall's exterior is nearly complete, after a herculean effort by our two painters who labored for over a month. It looks "better than ever," and we are soliciting a fourth bid for a roof replacement. The roof has been patched many times over the last 60 years...and has worn out...so we are exploring alternatives to replace it...another patch just won't do.
Memorial Hall came down almost too easily, and within the next two to three weeks its former location will be fully landscaped. The Motor Lodge and Cadet Diner will be removed by the middle of October...and if anyone wants the "no vacancy" sign or the original motor lodge/diner sign, they will go up on eBay for bid in a few weeks.
What I missed most over the summer was the uniformed cadet corps, and seeing first-hand the difference we make in the lives of young men. It is wonderful to have these young men back on campus. I also missed the Tuesday and Thursday chapel services. I enjoy these short messages, and have heard from many alumni over the last 2 years about the impact these "sermons" had on their lives.
Chaplain Benson spoke of the importance of humility, service, and quoted one of my favorite scripture passages from Luke 18: "For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted." He challenged each of us to ask ourselves "how are you going to help someone else be successful?" And talked of faith and confidence...inviting each of us to consider how we spend our time and energy. How we spend our time and energy forms our identity...our character.
On Wednesday we had a special surprise as a Coast Guard H-60 Jayhawk helicopter flew over Fork Union Military Academy while conducting training. While we all hoped they would land, I'm sure in today's environment of closer public scrutiny on military expenditures it is no longer permitted (a mistake by the way...as it distances our military from the public it supports and defends).
Of course if the Coast Guard wanted over 400 of the finest young men in America to join, landing and allowing them to interact with the pilots and crew would have sold them forever. Congratulations Chief Mitchell, a member of the aircrew and FUMA alumnus, on a well-deserved retirement from the Coast Guard, and we hope you will visit soon in a more conventional way.
School has officially begun, and excitement abounds. I hope you enjoy reading my comments to the Corps of Cadets that officially started the school year. Pay particular attention to the challenges at the end.
"Today officially opens the 116th Academic Session.
Over the last few years I've talked about what it means to be a Fork Union man.
A Fork Union man works for his future.
He sacrifices a little fun today to secure his tomorrow.
He supports his fellow cadets...his brothers.
This year's cadet leaders were selected because we believe they will help cadets to be more successful.
Last year, nine out of ten cadets who started the year finished the year. It isn't that hard to do...but it takes effort.
This year I would like it to be ten out of ten. I want to do even better than last year.
We went to great lengths to make sure every young man here has the brains, the character, and the physical stamina to succeed.
At the close of last year I said that the future of Fork Union Military Academy was bright.
That bright future is in this room today...our returning cadets, and our newest 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th graders and postgraduates.
Thank you for attending Fork Union Military Academy, and welcome to the long gray line that includes many distinguished graduates.
This year we will stress our core values of Respect, Integrity, Faith, Character, and Discipline.
Timothy was a young church leader, and Paul, his mentor told him the same thing I often tell young people:
"Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith...do not neglect your gift which was given to you..."
At the risk of being too honest with you, there are days that I wonder: "What in the world am I doing in Fork Union?"
Some days you may wonder the same thing.
About a minute after asking myself this question, I realize that God wants me to be here so that I can strengthen the school, the faculty, and the staff to do the hard work that needs to be done.
I also believe He wants me to make your cadet experience the best it can be.
I hope you too will realize that God wants you here...and that He will want you to make the most of your time.
At the opening meetings with faculty, I challenged them to set a positive example and to live the core values.
I told them that I know cadets are paying closer attention to what we do than to what we say.
Faculty, staff, and administrators must set examples of military decorum, adult conduct, and Christian character.
There are three things I am going to ask of everyone in this Chapel from the moment we leave this morning.
The first is that I've declared this year, the "Year of the Uniform." We will all be wrinkle-free, take pride in our appearance, and model military bearing.
The second is already in cadet regulations, but I am going to ask for more than just compliance.
When you are in uniform and pass a uniformed staff, faculty member, or cadet officer, I want hand salutes rendered and returned with pride.
The military hand salute is a time honored tradition...the presentation of the open empty hand...a signal that you mean no harm.
This salute is to be accompanied by a hearty "Good Morning, Good Afternoon, or Good Evening."
Cadet LTC Bartolotta and I will demonstrate (demonstration).
While you only salute in uniform, I don't want you to pass anyone without the appropriate greeting of the day.
This applies particularly to those you see who you do not know...those who may be visitors.
The third and final thing I will ask of you is that you do at least one thing for someone other than yourself each day.
You can do more than one, but do at least one.
It might be as simple as taking up someone's tray, or offering to get them something to eat or drink while you are up...it might be holding a door, or taking out someone's trash.
Just do one thing for someone other than yourself.
If we all do those three things, and live by our core values, we will create an environment here that everyone will want to be a part of...a special place...a place where none of us will wonder why we are here.
It is great to have you all back.
I'm going to end with some advice that Coach London, the head football coach for the University of Virginia gives to each of his players:
"Go to class. Show class and treat people with dignity and respect. Those directions are pretty easy to follow and will lead you on the path to success."
Go Books! Go Blue Devils! Go FUMA!"