From the President of Fork Union Military Academy, Rear Admiral J. Scott Burhoe.
Here are two testimonials received from parents last week, and to borrow a line from Dragnet, "the names have been changed to protect the innocent:"
"This is Cadet Whitescarver's dad, Ken Whitescarver. First, I want to mention that Tyree is unaware of the fact that I am writing this email. Second, Tyree started at Fork Union three years ago, halfway through his freshman year. He is now a Senior, and my wife and I couldn't be happier with how he has developed as a student, as an athlete, and most importantly as a responsible young man. Fork Union Military Academy has been excellent, and beyond our highest expectations for our son, and our family."
"It is clear that John is excelling at FUMA. I believe that is not only due to the unique study program, but also to the commitment that the staff have in developing young men. As discussed, our choice in Fork Union Military Academy was based on three criteria: the Study Plan, Religion, and Discipline. We know we made the right choice."
We've adjusted our marketing strategy this year, contracting professionals to help generate more applications and interest. This has been an eye-opening experience, as we are learning what we didn't know before, and it is humbling to discover the challenge of communicating the school's value, particularly knowing the difference it could make in the lives of so many young men.
Just in the time I've spent writing this blog, my phone [and thanks to modern technology, my watch] has provided 5 notifications about events in the country and the world that confirm we need more respect, integrity, faith, character, and discipline. Those five values are in abundance here at Fork Union...not only among our cadets, but also our faculty, staff, and administrators.
So...enrollment is the theme, and full enrollment is the goal for our 2017-2018 school year. We have what the world's young men need...so now the world just needs to send their sons here; and we can bless them with good habits, character, and core values.
Earlier today we posted a picture on our Instagram site with this caption: "Final exams for the third of five terms at Fork Union Military Academy...a day started like every day...honoring America's flag...with a respectful salute:
We are now beginning the fourth term, which means that 60% of the school year is complete, and 40% is still ahead of us. Delegate Chris Head, who represents the 17th District, which includes parts of Roanoke, Botetourt County and Roanoke County, in the Virginia House of Delegates will be our Commencement speaker. His son, Michael, our state champion debater, and Religion/Academic Officer on the Battalion Staff will be graduating on May 27th. We will send out a press release soon with more information.
The time since my last blog has been challenging for us all. While the mild winter helped us in so many ways, it has also brought days that feel like spring...bringing a bit of spring rambunctiousness to cadets, faculty, and staff. No one is immune from spring's allure and the call to be outside...and it gives a sense that school may soon be over. Last night's 20 degrees put us all back in our place, just as filling our Commandant of Cadets position also put our organization back in place. LTC Houston Eldridge became our Commandant on January 27th, and hasn't slept since [he's slept...just not as much]. We were blessed to have 1SGT Eugene Brice, USMC, Ret. as our Acting Commandant during this time. He resumed his duties as Deputy, and has been an invaluable resource during this critical transition.
As the 4th term begins, our 8th grade students will take courses using our One Subject Plan. This eases their transition into our Upper School. We recently produced a two minute summary of this program which is ideally suited for young men. Please take some time to view the presentation:
I encourage everyone to explore the pictures on our website at http://photos.forkunion.com/. We've done an amazing job this year of chronicling the major events (Ring Ceremony, sporting events, Senior Nights, Chili Wars, etc.). At a recent staff meeting I listened to all the ways cadets were active over a particular weekend, from Judo to Chinese New Year Celebrations, track meets, swim meets, wrestling matches, basketball...going to DC for the Walk for Life...and even the Interact Club giving our dining facility workers a "break" one Sunday by manning the serving line, doing the dishes, and cleaning the tables. I was impressed by the array of activities, and the involvement of staff and faculty at every level. It made me realize how great we had become.
It is these moments that [at the risk of repeating myself] that I am surprised that every parent doesn't send their sons to a college-prep, Christian, military boarding school, because we educate, inspire, and develop the body, mind, and spirit...building character and responsibility through accountability and independence.
I will close by summarizing the notes I've taken during the last several Chapel Services: ...it is much easier to look back at the path that you've followed than it is to see into the future. You just have to trust God...and you have to know that your purpose on this Earth is to serve Him...young people don't take full advantage of their gifts, because they are afraid to be as good as God wants them to be. Be on your guard; Stand firm in the faith; Be a man of courage; Be strong.
Forget about the misery; do you not see? We need to focus on the positive aspects. God is at work; God is getting you ready for what lies ahead; Fork Union is a great place to be...but it is understandably hard to see the lessons you are learning; We ask that you seek God's will...pray for God's will...know God's will. Wear heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. One who does good is of God. Teach us how to love each other. Live your life in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ.
Yesterday's Chapel message was centered on the Prayer of Jabez. This prayer, which I have prayed often, encouraged me when I was a young Captain in the Coast Guard, geographically separated from my family, and considering early retirement. I found myself in some difficult and trying professional and personal circumstances. This prayer gave me the peace (and permission) I needed to pursue even greater responsibility, rather than escape it...and helped give me the courage to follow God's will.
I will [really] end with 1 Chronicles 4:10:
"Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, 'Oh that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.' And God granted his request."
Driven by Purpose! Called to Lead! Fork Union Strong!
I chose to stay close to campus this holiday season. It allows others to be away, and after this last month, there is much rest to be had, and my sense is that faculty, staff, and administrators are taking advantage of the Christmas/New Year break in ways that will allow them to return energized.
I spent last week making a few remaining visits to trustees, friends of the school (who’ve now become friends of mine), and snuck in Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with my family…all 11 of us now (counting my granddog). Seeing four grandchildren, all under the age of 6, playing together in anticipation of Santa’s visit the next morning, brought back the magic of Christmas.
Before the break, we spent time understanding the true meaning of Christmas through a sermon series led by CPT Jason Biette. He preached about Advent, and explained Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love in a way that all of us could understand. It was another reminder of something that distinguishes Fork Union Military Academy from other schools…as 400 adolescent young men, all dressed the same, sat and listened respectfully to adults speak.
As Jason spoke of Hope, he mentioned that we should all live our lives in the reality of things to come, not in the shadow of the day. As I shopped later in the week, I could see the “shadow of the day” burdening many. Others focused on the birth of Jesus, and were clearly lifted by the reality of things to come. Just before the sermon on Love, a cadet came up to me and asked if he could speak to me after Chapel.
Typically that means a cadet has just gotten demerits for something he believes he “didn’t do,” and thinks I will intervene on his behalf. No cadet conversation with me has ever resulted in a demerit reduction, but nevertheless, I have the conversation a handful of times each year. So, as my mind wandered during the service about what this young man may have done (or not have done), I listened to the message on Love.
It helped put me in the right frame of mind, so after the service I found the cadet, and asked him what he wanted to share with me. He said:
"Admiral, I just wanted to let you know that this school has done so much for me since I arrived in August, that I would like to give back in any way possible. If you can think of any jobs I might do, or anything I could do to ‘give back,’ please let me know.”
Well, I didn’t see that one coming, but his words lifted me, and made me want to have this be my last conversation of the day. One of my aspirations for cadets, is the same goal I had at the Coast Guard Academy. I want young people to appreciate the experience they are in, and take full advantage of every opportunity…knowing that if they do, their futures will be even brighter. Of course this only works when the experience they are living makes them stronger, brighter, and centered on something other than themselves.
That is why I am glad the staff, faculty, and administrators are resting. On January 2nd we leave basecamp, and begin our journey to the summit. Graduation will be Saturday May 27, 2017, just 150 days from today.
Almost 60% of our seniors have already received college acceptances. We are nearly at the halfway point of the 2016-17 school year. We have already experienced great joy and great sadness, yet we continue to be strengthened through our faith, and the good works of those who have dedicated their lives to educating, developing, and inspiring young men here at Fork Union.
As we reflect on 2016, and enter 2017 with great hope for the future, please continue to pray for Fork Union Military Academy. I would ask that you keep the cadets, faculty, staff, and administrators in your prayers every day. Prayer matters. There is nothing more important than helping young men become Driven by Purpose, with that purpose being to serve God while serving others. We also believe that the young men here will be Called to Lead, in the same way we were called to lead them.
It is quiet here today…it is too quiet. I look forward to the safe return of our Corps of Cadets on Monday January 2nd, as we prepare to finish the 2016-17 academic year.
Go FUMA! Fork Union Strong! Welcome Back!
At Thursday's Chapel Service, Cadet Captain Michael Head led the Corps of Cadets in prayer. His prayer asked God to prepare us all to be "bold Christian leaders." Like many of his thoughtful meditations, this is something we all want for our cadets and graduates. We educate, develop, and inspire --- not so our graduates will be lukewarm --- but so they will be confident in their faith, respectful in their actions, truthful in their words, disciplined in their walk, and display a gentleman's character.
Last week our faculty administered midterms, signifying that a third of the school year is complete. We transition this week from fall to winter sports, and closed the fall season after hosting the Virginia Independent School Athletic Association State Cross Country Meet here at our home course. Earlier this afternoon, in addition to my normal running route, I decided to run the 5K course...setting a new course record for Fork Union Military Academy Presidents over 60.
I was impressed by how well the Athletic Department had prepared the cross country course for the young men and women who ran their very best last Friday afternoon...there were moments as I ran through the wooded area...up the steep inclines...that their spirit helped me give more energy than my Sunday runs usually demand.
Last Friday, Fork Union Military Academy had another "first." Our cadet leadership planned and executed our annual Veterans Day Ceremony. This year the ceremony was held at 1100 on the 11th day of the 11th month. This is symbolic of the nations who commemorate Armistice Day.
From the invocation, remarks by CSM Glenn Sidwell, reading of the names, laying of the wreath, musical interlude, 21-gun salute, echo taps, singing, to the benediction, this ceremony that honored our nation's veterans was memorable and brought tears to many eyes, including mine. Some of the emotion came from watching young men give so much honor and respect to those who served and serve today, and some came from seeing young men accomplish great things when we trusted them enough, mentored them well, and allowed them to take risks.
The ceremony was truly a "sight to behold," and a harbinger of Fork Union's bright future. We are the school of choice for young men willing to work a little harder to reach their high expectations...and we welcome young men who are driven by purpose, and feel called to lead.
While my blogs are no longer weekly, my sense is that information is flowing to alumni, parents, and friends more often and more smoothly than ever. Last week we published our 11th "Blue Devil Report," produced and edited by Ms. Kelly Shuman, and tomorrow we will publish our 9th "Front and Center" newsletter, which summarizes weekly activities, gives historical context, and announces upcoming events.
I hope everyone is reading these two publications and following us on social media through Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.
I will close this blog by summarizing my notes from the last month of Chapel:
God has a plan for each of us...it is called our destiny. Will you fulfill your destiny? God speaks to us in many different ways...but He wrote us all a letter. Someone out there is praying for all the things that we take for granted each day. We must be obedient to God's will...but many of us are too self-centered. Devote yourself to others...be a man of integrity and compassion. Keep going...don't ever stop. This is a great world; Open your eyes; look at it.
The young glory in their strength, and the old are honored for their gray hair. Approach life like you have something to learn. What can you learn today? Don't judge my story by the chapter you just walked on. Let us celebrate our differences. Show loving kindness. Beware of evil forces; they do strike. What is the City of God in your life? Become the man God wanted you to be. If you don't want anyone to find out...just don't do it. Listen to my prayer, Oh God. Do not ignore my cry for help. Give your burdens to the Lord, and He will take care of you. Sometimes life is like an elevator...and you have to let people off. Imagine a world where everyone is centered on Him...Jesus died for everyone.
Many of you will receive a letter sometime in the next 30 days asking you to support the Academy Fund. This is our annual giving program. This year we need to raise $1M to keep us from reaching into our unrestricted endowment.
As of today, we remain debt-free, and our modest endowment is stable, but...
...we are at a crossroads. We either shrink to a corps-size and faculty/staff size that is financially sustainable, or we continue to meet our Founder's vision. Dr. Hatcher enrolled mission-appropriate students regardless of their ability to pay, so those young people could focus on body, mind, and Spirit.
Right now we provide over three million dollars in scholarship and financial aid support from our annual operating budget, and we want this transformational support to continue. Lives change as a result of attendance here...I see an example of it nearly every day...and it buoys me to continue leading this school.
The only way we can sustain our enrollment, and continue to improve and grow, is to raise an additional million dollars in philanthropic revenue specifically designated for our Annual Fund. This will be applied to our current operating budget.
One thousand people received a personal letter from me, and thousands more will receive a letter from either an alumnus, parent, or friend. Many already have been led at one time or another to invest your time, talent, or treasure in this great school, but I invite anyone who has the means to join Betsy and me as we invest an additional $1000 this year to keep us "Fork Union Strong."
After all, we are "Driven by Purpose. Called to Lead."
Let me start with a highlight of the last few weeks. It will answer the question posed by the blog title. Yesterday I spent part of the afternoon in our College Research Technology Class, taught by Ms. Janice Simmons. All these topics were brought up during two hours of presentations made by four cadets.
Education is about learning, and it is about being inspired enough to want to learn more. All the presentations made me think, and each taught me something new. Each expanded my knowledge, and stimulated my curiosity to want to learn more. These student presentations represent only a quarter of the presentations made, in a classroom that includes fourteen cadets from Australia, China, Egypt, Korea, Nigeria, Vietnam, and the United States.
My only hope is that everything I learned formed new long-term memories through the intermediate-term high-capacity buffer in the hippocampus and into long-term memory storage in the neocortex. But…maybe you needed to attend the class to understand that last part…
It was a great afternoon.
This year we have two new communication tools: Front and Center and The Blue Devil Report. We also have a stronger presence on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, as well as other social media platforms.. My last note to our Director of Communications was that my blogs may now have become obsolete, and on the verge of extinction…certainly no longer as necessary as they seemed five years ago.
The middle of next week will signal that 20% of the school year is complete. We already have almost 10% of our seniors accepted to college…with only 90% to go. We’ll soon select and invite a commencement speaker, and I’m certain this year is passing faster than any other in our history.
We continue to feature positive and influential speakers at our Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday Chapel Services. In mid-September, John White IV spoke about “Master, Mate, and Mission,” expressing the importance of following the right master (God), selecting those we will spend the majority of our time with (friends, spouse), and having a thoughtful mission statement for our personal and professional lives. Mr. White is the grandson of Chick-Fil-A founder Truett Cathy, and his powerful message and video (where his grandfather answers the question “How do you want to be remembered?”) are posted on our website.
We also hosted our Annual College Fair, and those pictures are posted online. This is always a successful event, and signifies a key theme for our college-prep, Christian, military school.
As our newly hired Associate Director of Admissions for International Students adjusts to her new position (she previously taught English as a Second Language) we are exploring new international venues to further diversify our student body. Later in November, she will travel to Warsaw, Poland and Budapest, Hungary to meet with international educational consultants and perhaps a few local families.
At the faculty meeting yesterday afternoon, I started by telling everyone to: “wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands,” and if that isn’t available, use hand sanitizer. We are entering a season where viruses spread more rapidly, and the best defense is keeping hands clean and taking the flu shot. I became concerned when I learned that a number of day and boarding parents had decided not to have their sons receive the flu shot here in our Infirmary.
I hope that only means that they will get the shot somewhere else…because it is important in boarding school environments that we all stay as healthy as possible, because in education, time away always means that less is learned…
I also shared that this year, more than any other, as I approach cadets, the conversations they are having are more often than not about the colleges they plan to attend, or what they are doing for homework. I do hear other conversations too, but it is nice to see the trend toward “seriousness about the future.” Yesterday I also observed a group of cadets comparing the size of their biceps (ala Superman poses) and as I walked back from the faculty meeting a middle school cadet came up beside me and said: “Admiral, those shoes look pretty good. Do you polish them yourself?”
Those are my favorite times of the day.
With Hurricane Matthew bearing down on my mother’s position, I better go and check the weather. I told her not to worry, the Coast Guard will be close by…they always are. Our prayers are with all those who are and will be impacted by this powerful force of nature.
This storm is another reminder that we cannot control every outcome, and must trust God with all our hearts and minds, even if that trust defies all human understanding.
I will close with one of John White IV’s favorite Scripture passages, Deuteronomy 31:6:
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”
It is halftime of the Junior Prep home football game against Georgetown Prep, so I'm taking advantage of the air conditioning in my office to write this blog. We started early this morning with our Cross Country Invitational, hosted on our world-class cross country course in hot and very humid running conditions.
Despite the weather, I enjoyed a morning of interacting with parents, some whose sons have been here for just three weeks. It was refreshing to hear that many of our annual goals are already being accomplished. Our cadet leadership is performing well, showing confidence, poise, and even love...and I was pleased that so many new parents recognized this first-hand.
Our external communication has improved already with regard to posting pictures, newsletters, and sports information. I find myself knocking on wood often, because I know we must sustain this positive momentum.
Since my last blog, I travelled through Ohio and Pennsylvania visiting a past parent and an alumnus from our postgraduate program. These meetings were encouraging, hearing directly the impact Fork Union Military Academy had on their lives...and seeing our work paid forward by the actions of our graduates. During these visits, and all the others, I share how important it is that our graduates and past parents continue to support Fork Union...
...not only by helping us raise the 10% we need each year to simply keep the doors open [tuition revenue alone does not provide enough money each year to operate the school], but also by sharing with friends and family the impact Fork Union had, and continues to have on young men. Fork Union helps young men understand and realize that their lives are meant to be lived with purpose and meaning.
Our Chaplain, Major James Benson, delivered his first chapel messages around our core values of respect, integrity, faith, character, and discipline. We define faith as complete trust, and acknowledge that God provides opportunities to have a positive impact on the world. We know our purpose on this Earth is to serve Him. The world revolves around God; it does not revolve around any of us. We serve others before serving ourselves.
I encourage parents reading this blog to reinforce these values when your sons are home on day pass or leave...asking them what these words mean in their own words (and yours). For alumni, I invite you to continue living our core values, because you are billboards for the school...our best possible advertisement of purpose-driven lives.
The core value definitions are in the Fork Union Military Academy Strategic Plan
I will end this blog with my highlights of the last two weeks. What gets me through each week is not planning for a pedestrian-only campus; trying to raise $200M dollars so the school will be financially sustainable; editing energy audit grant proposals; or choosing insurance brokers; and as much fun as renovating science labs might sound, it isn't as thrilling as you might think.
What gets me through each week are the little things...listening to our cadets sing at chapel, and watching a cadet officer lead his fellow cadets in prayer; watching colors in the morning, and retreat at night; seeing cadets studying quietly and orderly for almost two hours each night; and writing a personal note to a cadet facing a personal crisis that would derail any among us.
What also lifts me up are the short talks with cadets at sporting events about what brought them to Fork Union, and what keeps them here; and conversations with cadets who arrived four or five years ago, who now seek a recommendation to attend one of the America's service academies or their dream college; and seeing the joy on another young man's face when he accomplishes something he once thought impossible.
Purpose Driven. Fork Union Strong. Pass it on. Go FUMA!
This morning, after waking up early, making their beds, marching to a hot breakfast, cleaning their rooms, forming up on Fraley Circle and honoring the nation's colors by raising the flag with precision and dignity, all the cadets filed into Wicker Chapel. We opened the school meeting with a prayer; I introduced myself, and spoke briefly about expectations for cadets and faculty.
We've assembled a strong and willing Corps of Cadets, and we are very proud of our Admissions staff, including those who worked throughout the summer. Once prospective cadets delayed by travel or other circumstances have arrived, we'll take a closer look at numbers, but it appears as though we are within 2% of last year's corps size for 7th - 12th grade students, with our 7th and 8th grades growing, and our 9th, 10th, and 12th grades staying stable. We brought in a smaller postgraduate football team for a variety of reasons, some planned and some through unforeseen circumstance.
Our pledge this year is to better communicate and chronicle activities, and to do it faster. You will see pictures on our website and (we hope) articles in your local papers about activities and cadet recognition. Two staff members are taking pictures of cadets in class this morning, and they will be posted before this blog is released.
We are Fork Union Strong, and excited about our 119th school year, and all that will come with it.
My remarks (as delivered this morning) are below:
"As I watched you [cadets] file into the Chapel this morning, I was first struck by the fact that I am not the only one in the room who is not a "morning person," so will work extra hard to be as enthusiastic and energizing as possible...
The Book of John starts out:
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and Word was God."
This seemed a fitting verse of Scripture with which to start our school year.
This is an exciting day; the first day of class.
The official start of Fork Union Military Academy's 119th school year.
For those who may not know me, I am Rear Admiral Burhoe, President of this school.
I am responsible for the faculty, staff, and administrators who are responsible for you, the cadets in our Corps.
Truth be told, you are really responsible for yourselves;
And life here is best for us all when we listen, learn, follow direction, rules, regulation, and policies...as much as we often don't like to hear those particular words.
I spent over 3 decades as an officer in the United States Coast Guard, retiring from active duty 5 years ago.
I learned how to adapt to a military structure, and owe my success to what I learned in the Service. I love military schools...and know how good they are at preparing young men for bright futures.
There are four things I am going to expect of everyone in this Chapel from the moment we leave this morning.
The first is to abide by the Honor Code: "I will not lie, cheat, or steal; or tolerate those who do."
If you lie, you look like a liar, if you cheat, you look like a cheater, and if you steal, you look like a thief.
If you tolerate others who do, you do not belong here, because at Fork Union we do not lie, cheat, or steal.
If you need help understanding the boundaries in these three areas, ask...few go through their lives without some lapses in judgement...so we will provide as much grace as possible...but there is little room for lies, cheating, or stealing.
The second thing I expect is that you exemplify the Core Values of:
Respect - Integrity - Faith - Character - Discipline
Memorize the core values and understand their definitions as soon as you can...
We will teach you more about these as the year goes on...so I encourage you to listen while in Chapel and at your morning devotionals in class.
As we think, we are...
...and if we fill our mind with these values, we will become them...and they will become us.
If you live our core values; abiding by the Honor Code will be easy.
The third expectation is already in cadet regulations, but I am going to ask for more than just compliance.
When you are in uniform and pass a member of the staff or faculty, or a 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...it is a sign of respect.
This salute is always accompanied by a hearty "Good Morning, Good Afternoon, or Good Evening."
While you only salute while in uniform, don't pass anyone without the appropriate greeting of the day. And if you are greeted by someone, return that greeting.
This applies particularly to those you see who you do not know...those who may be visitors to the campus.
The fourth and final expectation is that you do at least one thing each day for someone other than yourself.
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. Something they didn't ask you to do...
If we all do these four things:
1. Follow the Honor Code
2. Internalize the Core Values
3. Greet each other with respect and enthusiasm
4. Serve others before serving yourself
We will create an environment that everyone will want to be a part of...a very special place...a sanctuary...
...a place where everyone knows their purpose.
Our purpose is to serve God and our fellow man.
According to a devotional I read by Dr. Stanley:
"You have a choice: Either be content with less than God's best, or give yourself fully to him."
This year, and every year, give yourself fully to God, and this year give yourself fully to Fork Union Military Academy.
Don't be content to be less than your best.
Succeeding at Fork Union is simple. Nothing asked of you here is complicated, but it takes work...it will be hard work, but worth it.
Simple, but not easy.
It is great to have you all back.
Go Books! Go Corps of Cadets! #ForkUnionStrong Go FUMA!"
Last night, when I was talking to my mother on the phone, she told me it was [past] time to write a blog. So I am writing a blog. She told me it didn't need to be as long as the others...in fact she prefers them shorter. So here goes...
Our postgraduate football team is checking in as I write. There are a few less than in previous years, but this appears to be a year where more young players "settled" for what they had in hand, rather than working harder for a better outcome. It reflects a growing sentiment among young men that frustrates, yet motivates me.
I am concerned about a growing trend in which young men seem to "settle" rather than strive. Good comes from hard work...and sometimes you have to work hard and delay immediate gratification to make gains. The young men who choose to come to Fork Union, and to do the hard work, will be glad they did...maybe not immediately, but by this time next year, they will be Fork Union Strong.
Our football players, both junior prep and prep, checked in last Friday, and made it safely and productively through a very hot and humid weekend. The thunderstorms and lightning last night were fierce, some of the most dramatic I've witnessed...but our alarm systems and protocols have significantly reduced any risks associated...and we have lightning protection in abundance.
The cadet leadership reported yesterday...the strongest assembly of cadet leaders I've observed, and all seemed eager to spend a week preparing for the arrival of our newest cadets, who will check-in next Monday the 22nd. Our new cadets will go through orientation for a few days, until the remainder of our returning cadets arrive on Wednesday the 24th.
Classes start on Friday morning, August 26th, with a morning "convocation" at which I have the opportunity to reinforce the tone and tenor expected for our 119th Academic year.
We've made a few changes, hiring a number of new faculty members, and will offer a required leadership seminar for all 10th grade students. We believe this class, taught by LTC Houston Eldridge, our Director of Character and Leadership, will provide the foundation necessary upon which our cadets will build their leadership skills. The class will reinforce our school's leadership model, and allow our cadets to interact with a man whose name is synonymous with leadership.
Another change evident this year throughout the check-ins is enthusiasm. Not that we weren't energized before, but...we really are now. It is clear from presentations by our Dean of Academics, COL Todd Giszack, our new Commandant of Cadets, COL Duane Fender, and our recently hired Athletic Director, LTC Brooks Berry, that we are all enthusiastically aligned with our mission to educate, develop, and inspire young men in this college preparatory, Christian, military environment.
Summer vacation is over. School has begun. It is time to build character and teach leadership, independence, confidence, responsibility, and discipline in this setting that encourages mental, physical, and spiritual growth. And also time to write blogs that are half the length of my old ones...thanks Mom.
Go FUMA! #forkunionstrong
Lately my daily devotional choice is one written by Dr. Charles F. Stanley. In it he said: "A country's liberty usually depends upon military might and governmental decrees. However personal freedom has to do with a decision to protect the heart, mind, and body from evil influences."
These last few days, with national media focusing on senseless death and what some might want us to see as anarchy, have been sobering...and depressing if we allow it to command our full attention. The events defy rational explanation, and there is a conversation about what schools should do to help students (returning in the Fall) better understand today's reality.
It is easy to feel helpless...each of us wanting to do something to make it better. My approach is generally to not allow the media to draw me into their agenda, but to stay focused on God's agenda...which is to live a life of purpose and meaning. Here at Fork Union Military Academy there are too many lives that make a difference for our attention to be distracted.
School heads who want to know how to address these "current issues" need only turn to Scripture, and while many verses are applicable, today I was led to Joshua 1:7-9:
"Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go."
Our work today demands that we plow ahead...the events commanding national attention are the result of men who had thoughts, words, actions, and eventually a destiny motivated not by a godly spirit, but by an evil one. At Fork Union, we resolve to reach as many young men as we can...teaching them to live their lives according to God's word...reflected in our mission to educate, develop, and inspire in a college-prep, Christian, military setting...we teach respect, integrity, faith, character, and discipline; building young men in body, mind, and spirit.
Although difficult to attribute, one of my favorite quotes is:
"Watch your thoughts for they become words, watch your words for they become actions, watch your actions, for they become habits, watch your habits for they become your character, watch your character for it becomes your destiny."
Now an update...to summarize events since my last blog on May 15th...
We closed the 118th Academic Year with Middle School and Upper School/PG graduation ceremonies. Both well represented the excellence displayed by our cadets, faculty, and staff. Our Upper School graduation was blessed by the presence of the 380th Army Band, commanded by our own Chief Warrant Officer Bruce Patterson, and Dr. John Upton, the Executive Director of the Baptist General Association, who was our Commencement Speaker.
As I predicted in my last blog, the seniors and PG's "finished well." This graduation saw three cadets receive their Associate of Science Degrees at the same time as they earned their high school diplomas. The degrees were awarded by Richard Bland College of William & Mary. Six cadets are on track to earn the same distinction in May 2017. Pictures are posted on our website in the photos galleries. This is one of my favorites from this link: http://photos.forkunion.com
The week before graduation the President has the privilege of addressing the cadets at the last chapel service. This year, like last year, I wanted the day to be a celebration. There are almost 100 Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday services each year, and I've continued to admire the respect the cadets show to each speaker, and the positive impression they leave on every guest who visits Fork Union.
So we celebrated strength, unity, and brotherhood with a slide show that captured many of the positive moments this year...positive moments of service, sports, learning, adventure, and fun. The slide show served as a reminder that while attending Fork Union comes with its challenges, the hard work is worth it...and it changes lives...by influencing thoughts, words, actions, habits, character, and destiny.
I encourage everyone reading this to see the show; it is now posted on YouTube at this link: Final Chapel Presentation 2015-2016.
We ended June with an event we host every 3-4 years, our COL "Red" Pulliam Leadership Award and Sports Hall of Fame Weekend. This year's event was phenomenal...and every recipient brought a message of hope and encouragement about the timeless work at Fork Union. The athletes recognized were gracious, humble, and sincere in their reflections on the impact FUMA had on their lives.
For details about the recipients please read the Sports Hall of Fame story on our website and view the pictures at this link : http://photos.forkunion.com/Summer-2016/June-2016. We are working to edit the Hall of Fame brunch and formal dinner presentations...and will post that video soon.
Our Board Chairman, Mr. Bill Vakos, received the COL "Red" Pulliam Leadership Award, which is the highest singular honor that can be granted by the Academy. The award is presented to a person who clearly displays outstanding leadership and has made significant contributions toward the betterment of Fork Union Military Academy. He demonstrated integrity, service, strong Christian morals and values, and was a role model for me, his fellow trustees, and the Corps of Cadets. His comments are available at this link.
The beginning of July brought us over 80 students for Summer School, which has gone extremely well...as we finish our first full week with all hands still on deck...two of our science classrooms have been completely "demolished" as we started a complete modernization to create state-of-the-art classroom/labs for our 119th Academic Year. We'll cut the deadline close...and the budget even closer...but we are excited by the renovation and the improvements to the Wicker Science Building.
In the normal course of faculty turnover, we lost a highly regarded member of our Social Studies faculty, who served with us for two years. He moved to Tidewater to collocate with his spouse. I was touched by one particular line in his "resignation" letter...so will use it to end the blog:
"Your unique community, combining the best traits of military discipline, Christian charity, and college preparation, has been a joy to be a part of...thank you for offering me the opportunity to be part of this special place in 2014, and I wish you and the FUMA community all the richness of God's blessings in the years to come."
Work hard... Be nice... Strengthen others... Be strong and courageous... Do not be afraid... Go FUMA!
Today we finished a long week. Of course it might be the rain, clouds, and cold. We've had more than our fair share of all three, but our guests from Greenbrier Military School...alumni from a school in WV that closed its doors in 1972, told me the campus had never looked so good.
The sun and warmth of today took that rain and turned it into green grass and beautiful flower gardens. They were here for our second formal parade, and it was the first time I've ever complimented a particular class. After the pass-in-review I wrote a note to the Commandant of Cadets, and 1SGT Brice, the Teacher-Advisor-Counselor (TAC) for our seniors (Alpha Company). They looked particularly proud of themselves today...marching like they meant it.
The entire Corps of Cadets has had two great parades in a row. Pictures from last week's Mother's Day Review are posted on our website. Today's review honored Greenbrier alumni and Peace Officer's Memorial Day. Our reviewing official was Sheriff Eric Hess, who is "our" sheriff here in Fluvanna County.
With just 12 days until graduation, and 14 weeks until the cadet leadership arrives for the 2016-17 school year, there is much work to be done. Among the positive changes being introduced next year is a leadership course that will be taught to all 10th grade students. They will earn a half credit similar to the way we credit our health and religion classes, both of which are mandatory.
We will also introduce a Cadet Mentoring and Alignment Program (CMAP) which will be an "early warning" system for cadets who may be struggling with accountability and discipline. Both these concepts still have meaning at Fork Union. Our students, faculty, and staff understand these words, but they seem to be losing ground a bit elsewhere.
Beginning next year, COL Duane Fender will become our Commandant of Cadets, taking the helm from COL Al Williamson who was the right man at the right time 7 years ago when he "fleeted up" to stabilize a situation and bring order at a critical time. COL Fender is energized and brings a wealth of experience from several diverse jobs here at Fork Union, most recently as Deputy Commandant. There will be a restructuring of positions within the department...putting people with the right skills in the best places.
COL Williamson is planning to stay with us, assisting with external communications, helping development and enrollment management.
We also hired Ms. Kelly Shuman, who currently works in Sports Information at Davidson College. She will be our first-ever full-time Sports Information Director, working directly for LTC Brooks Berry, our incoming Athletic Director. She will manage a cadet Sports Information Club, broadcasting sporting events, and ensure our best-in-class athletic program gets the national attention it warrants. Congratulations to Christian Hackenberg, who recently signed with the New York Jets to play quarterback. We are proud of Christian and the character he has shown off and on the field.
I apologize for the gap between blogs. After five years as President, you would think things would get calmer, not more hectic, but there are certainly more things to do than time allows. So let me give a Kiplinger style update:
Conducted our first ever "Elijah's Run" taking 3 cadets on a wilderness experience...designed to build confidence through its challenge and difficulty; held numerous "conferences" with parents regarding their sons' unique circumstances; thanked our Phonathon cadets...presenting medals; met regularly with our new Battalion Commander, Cadet LTC Malik Kuwornu...our first ever BC who also played PG Basketball...and is over 7 feet tall; hosted the Navy Recruiting Commands fun run; visited General Jack Chain...former Commander-in-Chief of Strategic Air Command and 1952 alumnus; planned 3 Eagle Scout projects with cadets; hosted Shawn Boyer and Bob Bruton as our last two Christian Leadership Series speakers...both were very inspirational...and are people worth knowing; conducted our National Honor Society Induction; held our annual Military Ball (prom equivalent) in the Social Center...with the theme "Under the Sea"...which was difficult for a retired Coast Guard officer who spent a living trying to stay on top of the sea; presided over my last meeting as Chairman of the Virginia Council for Private Education (whew); issued contracts to all returning salaried faculty/staff; hosted our semi-annual Board of Trustee meeting...followed by Alumni Weekend...my comments from the Alumni Dinner are available online; held another "signing day" ceremony where 9 cadets signed letters of intent to attend college to play intercollegiate sports in football, basketball, and lacrosse; our orienteering team competed in the U.S. Interscholastic Championship in OH, with our varsity team finishing 3rd in the country...Cadet Julian Yescas finished 2nd overall.
As you can see...even though there is "no excuse" for not writing more frequently, we've been working hard to do the right things right. The Trustee meeting went well, approving the budget for next year, and keeping them informed about our many initiatives and good news. Alumni Weekend seems a distant memory...but it was just two weeks ago...and my personal highlight was honoring LTC Tom Williams, USA, Ret as one of our Distinguished Alumni for 2016, along with Mr. George Lukas, '69 who we will recognize in Chicago, his home city.
During Alumni Weekend, there were many former cadets who spoke of the brotherhood that binds the cadets. Our 50 year class, the great Class of 1966 showed unity...and from the conversations, it was as though they'd been in touch every day since then...when they had not. In the words of Keith Verros '74:
"I have been back for Alumni Day...and met with fellow graduates who graduated before I was born...and others who were born after I graduated...you would think we would have little in common. On the contrary, we all have a common bond...a bond that consists of four simple letters: FUMA. These four letters bind us. We are a band of brothers, both from the school and from our Father in heaven. As long as we have these, we have something that we understand, even if others don't [understand]. As for me, I am glad I have FUMA binding me to my fellow brothers. I am sure my brothers would agree - we wouldn't want it any other way."
I will end with a prayer from Cadet Lieutenant Levord Burns...modified by me slightly to include four prayers in one:
"Dear Lord God, we thank you for letting us see another day that you have made. We hope the lessons we learn will have an effect on our lives and that you will help guide us down the right path. We thank you for the beautiful things you have given and that you help us make the right decisions in life. We give thanks for the blessings. We ask that you be with all of us, and that we remember that you are always just one prayer away. These things we ask in Jesus name. Amen"
In the words of Yogi Berra: "It ain't over till it's over."
Go Graduation! Go Class of 2016! Go FUMA!
At the Senior/PG Dinner, our keynote speaker, Mr. Bob Beavers, a successful businessman from Chicago, Illinois, who attended for a postgraduate year from 1982-1983 before enrolling at the University of Maryland, described Fork Union Military Academy during his remarks as a "crucible."
From Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the simple definition of crucible is:
A pot in which metals or other substances are heated to a very high temperature or melted; a difficult test or challenge; a place or situation that forces people to change or make difficult decisions
And sanctuary is defined as:
A place where someone or something is protected or given shelter; the protection that is provided by a safe place; the room inside a church, synagogue, etc., where religious services are held
In our Strategic Plan we describe Fork Union as a sanctuary, but after reflecting on Bob's message, I wish we'd considered using the word crucible as well. After much thought, I am convinced that it is best to be both. While a school must protect its students and provide a safe environment, only a very few schools really challenge students, and put them in situations where they must make the right choices. So, maybe we are a sanctible or a crucuary. Sorry, I couldn't resist...
Drill rifles have been issued, and parade practice has begun...it is that time of the year again. With only a month to go until our Spring Board of Trustees meeting and Alumni Weekend, we are excited to be planning the recognition of two Distinguished Alumni, LTC Tom Williams, USA, Retired '42, and Mr. George Loukas '68. There are many activities planned for the weekend, as we welcome the Great Class of 1966 back for their 50th reunion.
While it is easy to get swept away in the "tyranny of the present," particularly this close to graduation (57 days from today), we continue to work on the important as well as the urgent. We met with Brian Donegan, CEO of Intelligent Building Systems, who is going to help us monitor utility usage. We will be attending a conference later this month at Lynchburg College, hosted by the Jessie Ball DuPont Fund, and anticipate a grant to help us continue our quest to be environmentally sustainable...with a strong emphasis on saving energy (and money).
We are also planning for the arrival of the next cadre of cadet leadership (in 20 weeks) and are finalizing plans for Summer School. In less than two weeks we'll be hosting the Association of Military Colleges and Schools (AMCSUS) for a strategic planning retreat. This year I serve as the Vice President, with plans to serve as President next year.
My two year term as Chair of the Virginia Council for Private Education (VCPE) ends this summer, with just one more meeting in April (whew...) although I will remain on the Executive Committee. Serving helps me appreciate the commitment of those who volunteer for non-profit boards, and allows me to bring new ideas back to Fork Union.
We hosted a meeting with the Fluvanna County Sheriff's Department to begin discussions about possibly establishing a substation on our campus. This will give county law enforcement officers a "home" in the lower part of the county, increasing a physical security presence during what seem to be unpredictable times. More to follow on this and several other steps we've taken to keep up with the times with regard to physical security.
LTC Eldridge and I met to discuss full implementation of Fork Union Military Academy's leadership model, which we call LEAD. I've attached a link to the one page document describing this model, which we've used, but not fully integrated across all domains on campus. It will be fully implemented during the 2016-17 school year.
Some of the best days since my last blog have been spent in the classroom observing student (cadet) presentations. One morning I listened to an 8th/9th grade Environmental Science Class make presentations on alternate energy sources, ranging from nuclear fusion, wind energy, to solar power. I was impressed by the research and their grasp of the future...and challenged the class to give me ideas on alternative energy sources to heat our indoor pool...particularly when we turn off the steam. We can't wait to see their recommendations.
Another classroom presentation featured three seniors. One spoke about the social messages in songs of the 60's and 70's (and taught himself how to play Creedence Clearwater Revival on a guitar in just 3 weeks)...another who spoke of his Ecuadorian ethnic heritage...and another who managed to weave together Albinism and juggling. It was a real highlight, and again showed first-hand that our nation's future is in great hands.
Another highlight was walking through the woods with another Virginia Tech graduate, Matt Dowdy, with whom we've contracted to manage our 1,300 acres. His forest and land management company will help us keep our property healthy, vibrant, and harvest some timber the right way, helping us buy a bus...or perhaps offer another cadet scholarship.
All our seniors continue to receive acceptances to colleges and universities, receive ROTC scholarships, with a few deciding to enlist directly into the Armed Forces (like one of our distinguished graduates). I will try and publish a list of the schools, as it is truly impressive. As we end the year we selected a new Religion Officer, Cadet Second Lieutenant Levord Burns, whose prayers have been impressive.
I will end this blog with two of his prayers, the first given the day after the terrorism in Belgium:
"Dear Lord God, we thank you for allowing us to meet in the chapel again to hear a great lesson. Lord we would like to pray for the people of Belgium, as this is a troubling time for them. We just ask that you place a hand on the country, Lord. As it is Holy Week let us never forget that you sent your only begotten Son to die on the cross for our sins and we are forever grateful. All these things we ask in your Son's name, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, Amen"
And today's prayer I wanted you to experience for yourself...so please enjoy this short video...another example that just as Chaplain Benson made clear through statistics, young people today volunteer more, serve others more, and have charitable hearts. They are "out-serving" other generations...and have the capacity to change the world through their service.
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