Our master planners ended their first full day of exploring and inventorying the campus by spending some time getting clarification on expectation for the "kick-off" meeting scheduled for mid-March. This presentation will include trustees, alumni, faculty, staff, and administrators. We are excited about their work, and pleased to have hired such an accomplished architectural firm. Quickly, the conversation turned away from buildings to culture and core values.
One of the architects asked me if he could be honest. In a school where one of the core values is integrity, the answer is always yes. He told me that he was surprised that at a military school so many pictures on our campus were crooked and that we needed to instill more uniformity in our signage and more discipline into the "first impression" we give visitors. Of course he is right...no argument here.
He went on to say that he'd never been to a campus where more people came up so freely (and friendly) to greet him and offer their assistance; and at lunch was impressed when cadets offered to take up their trays. Now at what other school does that happen?
If I could choose between a welcoming culture and straight pictures, I'd pick the former, but the good news is that at the end of this planning process, I think we'll end up having both.
Saturday's Alumni Speaker Day brought many alumni back to campus. My impression is that this was a positive experience for everyone. This was followed by an afternoon of Alumni Board meetings, and our annual Senior/PG dinner. It was an uplifting night, and while it appeared the cadets enjoyed the comments by MG Robert Scales '62, and receiving their alumni pins, I really knew we'd met our goals when I received this email later that same evening:
I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed the dinner tonight. I've been looking forward to this dinner since my freshman year when I saw the seniors come back...all laughing and enjoying each other's company. I saw the depth of brotherhood this place creates, and I knew I wanted to be part of that...the speaker's message was a great challenge to us...to keep our character and realize all we've gained by being here...I know I've grown so much...I am better prepared for the world. Thank you for the dinner tonight, I was honored to attend."
It was easy to sleep well knowing that young men like this inhabit Jacobson Hall...
On Sunday Betsy and I supported another FUMA Alumnus, Phil Wall '03, by attending the premier of his documentary UNBELIEVABLE IS BELIEVABLE HERE. It covered the historic journey of the Virginia Commonwealth University men's basketball team through the 2011 NCAA basketball tournament where the Rams were catapulted to the national spotlight after becoming a controversial pick for the 2011 field of 68 teams. Phil's father, Dick Wall, is a member of our Board of Trustees, and his mother Carol Wall is author of the book: "Mister Owita's Guide to Gardening" which is on the path to becoming a bestseller. It is a terrific book, and another testament to this very talented family. Good luck Phil and Carol.
Monday brought more frightfully cold weather and another round of snow and ice. Okay, enough is enough...but as of today most of it has melted...and after a little ice tonight and tomorrow morning, we'll end the week with cold rain...but I know the sun is coming on Saturday...just in time for a very long run.
Many of you are aware that 3-4 times each year we bring in a guest speaker as part of our Christian Leadership Series. This initiative by David Barrett, one of our trustees, brings successful Christian men in to serve as role models for our cadets. This week we hosted Mr. Jason Walker, who is a Vice President for UPS. He is a graduate of the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, and has an MBA from VCU.
He talked about uniqueness and encouraged the cadets to make the most of every opportunity. He said: "God has made you special and wants to bless you so that you can bless the world through your unique gifts and talents." He ended by quoting Psalm 139 verses 13-14:
"For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well."
Later that same day I congratulated Cadet Michael Head, a ninth grade cadet, for his performance in the State finals of debate last weekend. He qualified for nationals (as a freshman!) and has the opportunity to compete at the national level in Chicago on May 24th and 25th. We are very proud of his accomplishment, and I enjoyed my time talking with him about his future plans, including returning to Fork Union Military Academy next year.
Read more about our debate team and Cadet Head's performance on our website.
This week was filled with amazingly positive moments balanced with the routine of reading accreditation reports, paying bills, fielding concerns from parents, and recognizing the positive performance of staff, faculty, and cadets. It was clear from every conversation that communications remains an issue, although it was also clear that communications seems to be a greater issue when a cadet is struggling.
I continue to reflect on the challenge of finding the "magic [behavior] switch" in each young man; because each young man is different.
What allows most cadets to thrive in this environment filled with structure, discipline, love, and clear expectations, yet in that same environment a small number of cadets struggle to comply with the same rules and regulations?
Fortunately there is too much good to worry about it long...besides, there are pictures to straighten.
I'll close with one of today's highlights, represented by a picture from Middle School Drama Class performance:
There were too many lessons in the play to share, but perhaps one of these young men is the "next" Vincent McDowell, a 2008 graduate now acting and singing in New York City, and featured in our latest YouTube Video.
My next blog will be in two weeks...I hope all the cadets enjoy Spring Break as much as I plan to...Go FUMA!