From the President of Fork Union Military Academy, Rear Admiral J. Scott Burhoe.
In my office hangs a portrait of COL Clayton Crosland. He was the third, and perhaps my favorite Fork Union Military Academy president. He was the first president whose last name wasn't Hatcher, and spent his three year tenure raising the money and building Hatcher Hall which we enjoy 100 years later. He was young, energetic, and even found the time to design the crest we still use today.
The school year has started better than any other. We maintained the same enrollment as last year, even with fewer cadets eligible to return. Our retention was over 80%, and the cadets seem to be adjusting to "military life" faster this year than ever. Our cadet leadership is the strongest in decades, showing a terrific sense of servant leadership.
We have the right people in place, all rowing in the same direction. Chaplain Benson finished his series on Fork Union's Core Values, and mid-term exams for the first term are today, which signifies that 10% of the school year is already behind us. My premonition is that our October enrollment will be higher than normal, as those who may not have returned yet realize that the One Subject Plan is superior to other methods of instruction, and that the love shown by the faculty and staff here is unmatched by any other school.
Sometimes I wonder if 100 years from now, Fork Union's 24th president will write his blog with some mention of me, speaking well of the core values, the value of strategic planning, the Fork Union [LEAD] leadership model, or the revival of the expression "work hard, be nice, and strengthen others."
Betsy and I arrived here in July of 2011 not knowing exactly what to expect, but knowing that the Lord led us here. There were other opportunities we still talk about often, but we chose this one, and now have stories to tell that will last a lifetime. We love the work here at Fork Union Military Academy, and will always have this academy in our hearts, minds, and prayers. Last Friday I wrote this letter to Ms. Paige Pruett, the Board of Trustees Chair:
Dear Fork Union Military Academy Board of Trustees,
After much prayer, consideration, and reflection, Betsy and I have decided to retire from Fork Union Military Academy at the conclusion of the 2017-18 academic year. This is the longest time we've spent in one place since we were married, and the longest I've spent anywhere in my lifetime.
I know God called us here, and have an equal amount of faith that He is leading us toward the next chapter in our lives. We aren't leaving here as much as we are moving toward more time with our grandchildren, our children, and our mothers. We have some adventures planned after settling into a house we are building in Loudoun County, near Betsy's childhood home. We plan to travel along trails we've read about, and appreciate God's beauty in nature. I've been "wired for work" these last four decades, and am eager to enjoy the outdoors and explore new aspects of body, mind, and spirit.
Living and working in Fork Union has been good for us. While I believe we have positively impacted the Academy, I will leave any description of those accomplishments to others. I trust that we leave the school better than we found it, but will acknowledge that its full potential has not been fully realized.
I am proud of the planning, the organizational culture, and the current climate; as well as the deeply imbedded set of core values. Enrollment, endowment, and financial sustainability remain critical challenges after over 6 years of "working the problem."
Fork Union is a great school and its mission more important today than ever before. This academy transforms the lives of young men in the same way it transformed mine. I leave with a deeper understanding of life's purpose, which is to serve God. That purpose will continue to drive me as I am called to lead elsewhere.
I thank the Board and the school for its support, friendship, and confidence, and plan to "finish well" at Fork Union. I look forward to welcoming the Academy's 11th President...one who must have the energy, enthusiasm, courage, and strength to move the school forward in these disruptive, tumultuous, and challenging times.
Rear Admiral J. Scott Burhoe, USCG, Retired
President, Fork Union Military Academy"
The Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees will be meeting this Thursday, and the process of selecting the 11th President of Fork Union Military Academy will be one of the items on the agenda. Based on my current role as President of the Association of Military Colleges and Schools, and the many people I've met who are interested in doing this work, I am confident that the Board will find the right person to pick up where I will leave off.
Please continue to pray for the Academy, and the young men who currently make up our Corps of Cadets. We are indeed blessed, and plan to make this 120th year the best on record.
Driven by Purpose. Called to Lead.
Fork Union Strong!
This morning was truly inspiring. Watching the cadets form up after marching to Fraley Circle to honor our nation's colors by raising the flag with precision and dignity...while a cadet played our National Anthem...everyone saluting...no one kneeling. It was a cool crisp Virginia day...and all the cadets had already made their beds, cleaned their rooms, and eaten a hearty breakfast before their first class day.
After colors, the Corps filed into Wicker Chapel. LTC James Benson, our school Chaplain, opened the school meeting with prayer:
"Father God, We offer thanks for the opportunity to begin this new school year, and we ask for Your blessings on the cadets, faculty, and staff that make this Academy such a great place. Please guide us in Your ways as we seek out Your will in all that we do during this academic session. Allow us to love each other, just as You have loved us. We ask all this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen."
I started off by telling the cadets how inspiring it was to watch them this morning, and how excited I was for this school year. I also commented that we were starting this year with more cadets than last year, which is a good sign for a strong school, that gets stronger each day.
Here is the text of my Convocation comments:
I spent over 3 decades as an officer in the United States Coast Guard, retiring from active duty 6 years ago.
I learned how to adapt to 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.
This is an exciting day; the first day of class. This is the official start of Fork Union Military Academy's 120th school year.
Life here is best for us all when we listen, learn, follow direction, rules, regulation, and policies...
There are five things I am going to expect of everyone in this Chapel from the moment we leave this morning. And we must do all these things every day for the rest of the year.
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.
If you think you need help understanding the boundaries in these three areas, ask...
Also, "not tolerating those who do" doesn't necessarily mean turning them in, it might mean talking to a fellow cadet who has done one of those things, and telling them to stop, and to come forward the turn themselves in for their lapse in judgement.
The second thing I expect is that you understand and 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.
If you live our core values; abiding by the Honor Code will be easy.
The third expectation is that when you are in uniform and pass a member of the staff or faculty, hand salutes must be 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.
The fourth expectation is that when you see an adult you will give the appropriate greeting of the day...a hearty "Good Morning, Good Afternoon, or Good Evening."
Yup, Yo, How's it going, or Hey are not acceptable options...
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 fifth 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...
I would invite you to start today by doing something for the wonderful people who work in our dining facility and campus landscaping crews. Be considerate with how you use the salad bar, and the mess you might consider leaving at your table. Help us keep the campus as pristine as it looks this morning.
If we all do these five things:
1. Follow the Honor Code
2. Internalize the Core Values
3. Render and return salutes with pride
4. Greet each other with respect and enthusiasm
5. 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...
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.
Don't be content to be less than your best.
It is great to have you all back.
Go Books! Go Corps of Cadets! Fork Union Strong! Go FUMA!"
RADM Burhoe's Chapel Message with Introduction by Dan Thompson
In the history of Fork Union Military Academy there are certain years that stand out clearly as watershed moments in the school's story, when pivotal events have raised challenging, even existential, questions for the school, its staff, and its students to answer:
Would the young school be able to survive the passing of Fork Union's founder, Dr. William E. Hatcher, in 1913? Or would his vision for the Academy die with him?
When arson fires destroyed two of the Academy's three buildings in 1923, would the school be forced to shut its doors forever? Or would it rebuild from those ashes to become even bigger and better?
This was a school year seemingly torn in two by the tragic death of COL Duane Fender in December, barely five months following his promotion to serve as our Commandant of Cadets.
It is said that the flames of adversity will melt the weak, but temper the strong.
When the history is written of the Corps of Cadets of 2016-2017, I believe it will tell a story of strength forged by fire, of the power of perseverance tested to its limits, and of a spirit of revival and renewal that inspired levels of excellence and championship performances unmatched in recent memory.
This past Tuesday, in what has become a tradition at Fork Union Military Academy, the school's president, RADM J. Scott Burhoe, delivered the final chapel message to the Corps of Cadets and shared an end-of-year video reflecting back on the events of the 2016-2017 academic year, a year of great challenge, change, and inspiration that may well mark another important watershed moment in the life of the Academy.
RADM Burhoe shared the following with the cadets and staff in his chapel message:
When you age, time goes by faster, not slower. It seems as though I was just up here giving the last chapel message of the year...and here we are again...
Today we celebrate the end of the 119th school year.
We celebrate strength, unity, and brotherhood.
I sat among you yesterday for the Spring Athletic Awards. I enjoy the spirit of competitiveness here, and the words Coach Berry used to close the event. He said that every time we put on a Fork Union jersey we compete to win...and he said that even though things were going well...they can even be better next year if we work harder.
That is the theme of my remarks today.
Since this is the last Chapel Service of the year, I want to thank Chaplain James Benson for the wonderful Chapel messages he's given throughout the year. I have watched Chaplain Benson develop and grow as a minister...it is not easy to get up here and give a message...his are powerful and to the point...Thank you Chaplain.
Over the weekend I read two lines of scripture that I will eventually memorize:
When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."—John 8:12
My prayer is that each of you will find the light.
At the end of my remarks, you'll see a video presentation that was created by our Communications Director, Mr. Dan Thompson, with pictures taken by COL Al Williamson.
Similar to the presentations the last two years, the video attempts to capture all that is good about Fork Union Military Academy...only this one is far better than mine ever were.
I want those graduating to appreciate what they've done...and those returning to better understand why.
A few here today have voiced concern about the future of Fork Union Military Academy.
Let me assure you that Fork Union Military Academy is strong...getting stronger...and our future is bright.
Because our seniors and PGs will be alumni in less than a week, I thought it might be helpful for me to provide a brief school update:
- Next year we will reemphasize military appearance, demeanor, customs and courtesies. At the service academies, they would say we are going to put the "M" back in Military. It will build school pride.
- Retan Rifles will make a comeback...and we will finally have a precision drill team again...and Retan will include our colors teams...which are in greater demand than ever...because of their excellence.
- Next year we are planning to reorganize into either four or five companies with mixed grade levels...Alpha will be a mixture of 12th and 11th graders...Bravo will be a mixture of 11th and 10th graders...Charlie will contain 10th and 9th graders...Delta will be 7th and 8th graders. We are looking into an alternative that places the postgraduate athletes in Echo for the first two terms, then distributes the remaining PGs into the remaining companies. They will serve as leaders and mentors.
- We will have more academic postgraduates next year than ever. Families are discovering our partnership with Richard Bland College of William and Mary, and our dual enrollment program with PVCC. Some high school graduates will be coming to Fork Union for college classes...not high school.
- Our football team will be playing in brand new red jerseys next year...with bold blue lettering...
- It appears right now that close to 80% of those cadets who are eligible to return are planning to return...which is about normal. I hope by the end of the summer that number will be closer to 90%.
- We have had to take some steps to balance our budget, and live within our means...something we've talked about doing for the last several years. These steps were painful and difficult...but necessary to secure our future.
- Next year we will reemphasize military appearance, demeanor, customs and courtesies. At the service academies, they would say we are going to put the "M" back in Military. It will build school pride.
I've heard some seniors say that they are concerned about their school changing after they leave. It is a conversation I have with alumni on a regular basis.
They fear we will not continue to excel at educating, developing, and inspiring Fork Union Men.
I've only known Fork Union for the last seven years, but let me tell you a little about its not-so-distant past...
Seven years ago:
- There wasn't a door on any toilet stall...not a door...20 years ago there weren't dividers between stalls
- The dorms were dark, had unreliable heat and air conditioning, and the doors were kept open using coat hangers
- There were eight pay telephones, outside what is now the Social Center, used by 400 cadets...even those eight phones were unreliable...and those were turned off for the first month of school
- There was no Social Center
- Computers were not used in the classrooms...there was little to no WiFi, and few projectors...technology was an afterthought. Personal music players were not allowed.
- Our average ACT score today is about 10 percent higher
- There were more Saturday classes...and half the number of weekend leaves, and no planned activities to speak of...
- Undergraduates were required to stay on campus through graduation...
- There was no Interact Club, no robotics team, and the debate team drew only about ten cadets each year...
- Cadets wore dress uniforms that were called Eisenhower Jackets, reminiscent of the Korean War...
- Enthusiasm was rare...
- Expectations for behavior were low...
- There WAS and continues to be love...that hasn't changed...that was in abundance...and there were amazing and dedicated teachers and staff...that hasn't changed either...
I don't say these things to criticize that Academy of seven years ago...I say these things so we can see how far we've come. I also say them to remind us of how far Fork Union will continue to change over the next decade.
Be careful when you say you want Fork Union to be what it used to be...organizations are different every time a new person joins. Each new group of cadets and every new staff member makes Fork Union different.
Fork Union couldn't stay the same if it wanted to.
While Fork Union is still far from perfect, there is one thing I can say with certainty: You are the finest group of young men to ever be assembled as a Corps of Cadets.
Fork Union is a great school...but it must not and cannot remain the same...
...it must be even better tomorrow than it is today...
We will be our finest when faculty, staff, administrators, cadets, and alumni recognize and admit that we are the best.
Constructive criticism is helpful. Blame is not.
Over the summer, I urge cadets to speak well of the school. Take responsibility for anything that needs to be improved, and if we can be better, do what it takes to make us better...
Help lead others into the light and out of the darkness.
So take this moment...while you watch this presentation, to reflect on what has been a challenging, but quite remarkable year. A year that made us all stronger and better.
We continue to be Driven by Purpose and Called to Lead.
The video embedded below was then shown:
RADM Burhoe then closed in prayer:
"Dear God, We thank you for guiding us to this last Chapel Service.
We acknowledge your presence at this school and throughout our lives.
Be with these young men this summer, and help them set examples for their friends and family...examples in speech, in life, and in faith...
Keep them safe, and guide them to college, to boot camp, to work...and guide them back here often...whether to visit...or to complete their education.
Bring rest and revival to the faculty and staff, and bless Fork Union Military Academy, as you have for over 100 years.
We ask this in your holy name. Amen."
I love to write. It explains my interest in buying a new pen everywhere I go…and my collection of cards and stationery. What holds me back from writing these blog posts more frequently are the urgent details of managing a school, and the important work that comes with leading the school.
Last week, I reconnected with two friends. One is my age. We went to elementary school, high school, and college together…then went off to “save the world,” each in our own way. We spent a day last week reconnecting, and visiting Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, VA. My friend sponsors a scholarship in memory of his son, killed by a drunk driver just before returning for his second year. His son loved the school, and after this visit, I could see why. The young men and women I saw and met at VMI were very serious about the sacrifices they were making. The school is everything it says it is in this short slogan:
An Uncommon Purpose. A Glorious Past. A Brilliant Future.
The similarities in architecture between our schools is striking, as is the parallel in building a strong “brotherhood” of friendships among students. There are some differences. We don’t have young women in our Corps, we still don’t allow cellphones, our dorms are air conditioned, and our mattresses don’t need to be rolled up during the day.
I enjoyed the visit, not only because it was exciting to see a military school full of young people working hard to be fit, smart, and living purpose-driven lives (very intentionally), but also because I found one more thing in common with my best friend. You see, he also didn’t understand why the world (and its parents) weren’t beating a path to our gates, sending their sons to Fork Union, and he couldn’t understand why Fork Union graduates and friends weren’t as supportive as the VMI alumni, parents, and friends seem to be.
Shortly after this friend drove home, I heard from the second dear friend. He is a 1953 graduate of the Coast Guard Academy, and we became close during my tenure as Superintendent. Some told me to be a little wary of him, because he had strong opinions about how things should be at the Academy. It turns out that his opinions aligned with mine…and that what he wanted was pretty simple, and mirrored my desire to have a professional atmosphere that built the best Coast Guard junior officers possible…to keep our nation safe…and save life and property at sea.
It was great to reconnect, and to see that he was still actively involved in moving the Coast Guard Academy forward, yet clearly saddened by the recent loss of good friends (and their wives). Something we see all too much of as we grow older.
So, thank you to friends. Friendship is a gift that our cadets receive in abundance. Our graduates develop relationships with each other, with teachers, with TACs, staff, and administrators that last a lifetime. There is something magical about our combination of crucible and sanctuary that can be easily lost in the routine of daily management tasks and seemingly endless emails and Outlook calendar appointments.
There is a clear difference between leadership and management and in this seventh decade of life, I find the management can be more exhausting than the leading. Wisdom makes the leading easier. Management requires repetition, persistence, and stamina.
With 30 days remaining to graduation, we have our long list of events and milestones between now and 27 May, and are making final preparations to close the 2016-17 school year. We are also planning for summer school (July 2nd through July 29th), and the 2017-18 school year. Needless to say, there is both leadership and management happening in abundance.
During a “mentoring” conversation with the legendary Commandant of Cadets, COL “Red” Pulliam, he shared one of his “secrets” with me. He told me that with adolescent boys, you have to say things over, and over, and over again. There isn’t any reason to be frustrated or to get upset about this fact…you just have to know from the start that things worth learning require repetition [management]. At a recent seminar on adolescent boys, I heard a speaker say that if you ask a boy why he did something wrong, and he says, “I wasn’t thinking,” to take him at his word. This advice has helped me immeasurably in managing cadets.
One of my favorite leadership expressions involves a lesson from my Coast Guard career. The people we lead don’t need another friend…they need a leader. Someone who is willing (and able) to give his direct reports what they need, which is often different than what they want. What people want often represents a short term desire, but what they need usually involves delaying gratification…not easy for a young man…or an old one.
In all of our leadership and management decisions, some of which are more difficult to make than others, we endeavor to keep the education, development, and inspiration of our students our paramount concern. Whenever economic conditions might require some sacrifices we’d prefer to avoid, we will never stint in our commitment to keep the needs of our cadets foremost in our mind. We will always work to ensure that they remain immersed in a sea of professionalism in which everyone contributes to their character development, consistent with the legacy we represent. Our cadets represent our nation’s future and are our Academy’s best feature.
In a conversation earlier this morning, I was told that in nearly every spiritual revival, youth led the way. A little research reveals that to be true….that in almost every instance, the Spirit was most apparent among young people. Thus our hard work here must continue…so please pray for us.
I’m going to reprint a paragraph from my last blog, because it bears repeating:
“In a world where we sometimes wonder where the next generation of ethical leaders will come from, and when they might emerge…it seems unlikely it would be from a small rural community called Fork Union, in the very heart of Virginia…but there you have it…another graduating class of young men who know their purpose, and who will heed the call to lead others [choosing good over evil].”
Driven by Purpose. Called to Lead.
Fork Union Strong!
Inspired by Alumni Speaker Day and our Senior/Postgraduate Dinner, this is my seventh blog of the school year. My new "rhythm" is to write at each mid-term and final exam. Seventy percent of the school year is now behind us, and less than 30% remains...62 days if anyone is counting.
Our new Director of Alumni Relations, Dan Tucker (FUMA '08, West Point '12), restructured Alumni Speaker Day, bringing in 12 graduates and dividing them into 3 separate panels in different locations. The Corps of Cadets rotated through the panels, named appropriately Body, Mind, and Spirit.
The main objective for the panels was to help cadets appreciate their Fork Union experience while still cadets, not 10 years after graduation, as was the case with a 2006 graduate I met earlier this week. The event helped lift the faculty, all there because this was our last Saturday class day, and reinforced what I hear often from alumni, which is that this school shaped them more than any other singular life experience.
One of the speakers told a story from his early working days, when he was asked to do something that he knew was at the very least unethical, and at worst unlawful. He knew doing what they were asking would be wrong...and approached three levels of supervisors, telling each that he couldn't do what they were asking, and to please reconsider their request. Each boss told him to either do what they told him, or he would be fired.
After a long and painful discussion with his spouse, he decided that he needed to resign. A short time later he saw the names of all three charged with violations of federal law. His sense of right and wrong, and the courage to do what was right...all learned here...directly influenced his decision.
When another speaker was asked how the One Subject Plan transferred to college, the alumnus (a Harvard graduate) said it didn't matter how many classes you take. This main issue is "doing the work." He then asked them:
"You know that thing you do between 7PM and 9PM every night...that time when you can't eat, drink, or get up and wander around...that thing we call CQ [Call to Quarters]...where you sit and study uninterrupted for 2 hours? Well, you need to do that in college...only add another hour. That will make all the difference...take CQ with you to college and you will be fine."
Several speakers stressed Fork Union taught them to build relationships...and that their strongest relationships tended to be with those who they shared little in common...whether international students, students with different religions, or cadets of different races and ethnicities. One alumnus urged cadets to "learn something from someone who doesn't look like you."
One piece of advice I enjoyed most was "don't fight it." I see this in about a quarter of the young men who arrive at Fork Union. Rather than see that we are [really interested in] educating, developing, and inspiring them in this college preparatory, Christian, military environment; along with building character and teaching leadership, independence, confidence, responsibility, and discipline, cadets sometimes perceive us as taking them from the temporary things they value most (at the time)...and some wonder what we must want in return.
During more than a few "second chance" [or "last chance"] conversations with cadets this year, I've made clear what we want in return. We want one more self-sufficient young man in the world, who knows the difference between right and wrong; can discern truth from fiction; and knows the world doesn't revolve around the cadet.
My daily devotional [which inspired me to write this blog when I should be preparing my income tax returns] included this passage from Romans 12:2:
"Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is-his good, pleasing and perfect will."
As was evident from all the alumni who spoke today, or attended the Alumni Board meeting, or joined us for the formal Senior/PG dinner, our graduates are grounded by the timeless values of respect, integrity, and faith. It was also clear they had turned those values into character, and are living disciplined lives in service to others.
I know those who will graduate in 62 days have also been blessed with a solid foundation. Some may lose their way temporarily...some may continue to "fight it"...but all have been given an opportunity to learn the truth, and be surrounded by men and women leading Christian lives worth following.
Our new school slogan is "Driven by Purpose. Called to Lead."
It is true for our faculty, staff, and administrators...and it is an aspirational goal for our cadets.
We have cadets accepted this year to the United States Military Academy (West Point), the United States Naval Academy (Annapolis), and the United States Coast Guard Academy (New London). We are particularly proud of all three, as we are proud of those who will attend some of the top universities in America. A list of the colleges to which cadets have been accepted so far this year is available at this link.
In a world where we sometimes wonder where the next generation of ethical leaders will come from, and when they might emerge...it seems unlikely it would be from a small rural community called Fork Union, in the very heart of Virginia...but there you have it...another graduating class of young men who know their purpose, and who will heed the call to lead others [choosing good over evil].
Go FUMA! Fork Union Strong!
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!
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