The President's Blog

From the President of Fork Union Military Academy, Rear Admiral J. Scott Burhoe.


Some Are Called

For loyal readers, this blog has something for everyone...military, Christian, and college-prep.  Today's Chapel message spoke of soldiers, leaders, and followers.  We had a "guest speaker," our own Captain Jason Biette, who teaches Environmental Science, which took the place of Earth Science taught for many years by COL John Ransone.

His message was based on 1 Samuel 14, and Jonathan's courage to follow God, even though it would cause him disfavor with his father [Saul].  To follow God is an exercise in faith, and it is important not to be swayed by the criticism of others.  Each of us faces challenges, but God remains in control. 

Aligned with our emphasis on character and leadership, the lesson illustrated that showing faith encourages people to follow...and that we should all have faith so strong that others take notice and want to follow our lead.

I enjoyed his ending, when he said that God "called some of us to bear the sword, and some the armor," but regardless must accept our calling faithfully...

My highlight for this blog did not involve a cadet, although there are a number of positive examples I could have used this week.  Instead my highlight was a short meeting with a faculty member's child.  Eight year old Ella made an appointment to visit and ask me a question.  At first she sat in the "hot seat"...the chair in my office where people brief me on issues...or where the cadets sit during "counseling" sessions.

Just before asking me her question, she decided it might be safer to sit next to her father on the sofa...and then said:

"The dining hall staff works hard for us every day and I would like to honor them with a meal.  I am going to ask the staff to bring food for a potluck.  I will email the staff asking for their support.  I would like to have a lunch on November 21st at the Estes Center."

At 8 years old I was searching for a good deed to turn my Bobcat Pin right side up...and may have opened a door for someone.  She made an appointment with the head of the school where her father worked to thank a group of hard working people who work tirelessly day in and day out.  Of course I said yes...as it reinforced in my mind the strength of community and family we have here at Fork Union.

Much of my time was filled by writing thank you letters to the many who have been generous to the school.  The 2013-2014 fiscal year (July-June) saw an increase in giving, particularly in the area of scholarship support for those who might not otherwise be able to afford the full cost of tuition.  While tuition revenue does not come close to providing all the school needs to operate year-to-year, it is still a significant investment for a shrinking middle class...but that may be a story for another blog.

We were blessed by a commitment this week by the Dwyer family, who established an endowed scholarship.  Paul Dwyer III ’76 attended for four years and reflects positively on his experience here. We are working with each graduating class to establish at least one endowed scholarship per class year, and welcome others who are considering creating endowed scholarships.

In a future blog I will provide some compelling stories about a growing number of young men here who have found the school, approached their parents, convincing them that "Fork Union Military Academy is where they need to be to reach their goals" whether they aspire to attend a Service Academy, attend the civilian college of their choice, or simply reach their full potential (athletically, academically, or attitudinally).  These young men are having a remarkably positive impact on our Corps of Cadets.

We've had several soccer games, cross country meets, football games...the Fellowship of Christian Athletes hosted a monthly "See You At The Pole," where many cadets, faculty, and staff prayed for family members, colleagues, and fellow cadets...and I wrote countless letters of recommendation for cadets seeking congressional nominations, or entry into a selective list of colleges...and even spent an afternoon speaking to a young man from Charlottesville who is applying for the Coast Guard Academy.

We also hosted the Chair and Vice Chair for our Virginia Association of Independent Schools decennial accreditation visit.  This visit is scheduled for April, and we've been working hard for more than a year to prepare a self-study narrative report, which is used as a foundational document for the visiting team.  This accreditation process has guided us to make a number of improvements...and continues to provide a framework for positive reflection...and while I'm not supposed to say this, we'll be glad to put the actual visit behind us...and use the energy in other ways that benefit the school.

On Tuesday we hosted Mr. Colin Hanna as the first speaker in our Christian Leadership Series.  He toured the campus, and addressed the Upper and Middle Schools.  His personal message of faith was inspiring, and his presence lifted the school.  We are blessed that Mr. David Barrett organizes and accompanies each speaker.  Colin Hanna is President of Let Freedom Ring USA, Inc., a non-profit public policy organization committed to promoting Constitutional government, free enterprise and traditional values. 

He is a U.S. Navy veteran, and has been a guest with Megyn Kelly, Hannity and Colmes, The Situation with Tucker Carlson, Dayside, Fox & Friends, Your World with Neil Cavuto, The Big Story with John Gibson; Special Report with Brit Hume, and The Lou Dobbs Report.  

For the Class of 2015, it must be refreshing to know that next week will signal that only 80% of the school year remains...and we know they "saw the light at the end of the tunnel" after their first meeting with Ms. Holly Sidwell, our Josten's representative, to talk about graduation announcements, mugs, and invitations.

Now I know why I wrote these every week...already at a thousand words, and still much that should have been said...but all I have time for is...

Go Parents Weekend!  Go First Formal Review!  Go FUMA!

Tangents

At a "Policy Time" meeting earlier this morning the senior staff/administrators reviewed plans for the first Upper School leave weekend, Parents Weekend (17-18 October), VAIS accreditation, and discussed plans for cadets who find themselves with too many demerits too fast.  As we discussed one final issue regarding how staff members should respond when cadets use cell phones handed to them by parents (and girlfriends) when they visit campus, we went off on three different tangents.

One of those tangents was a discussion on the Dining Facility dress code, and what should be allowed given what seems like a general "dressing down" in America today.  After a few minutes of discussion, I ended our meeting by saying how blessed we were that the school year was going so well that we could take our valuable time and talk about dress codes and today's fashion trends.  While dress codes are important, we truly have been fortunate this year to have the time to discuss these details.

COL Todd Giszack was my "guest blogger" last week.  Betsy and I were away from school for two days celebrating my 60th birthday.  This is the first one I've celebrated since adulthood...it seemed special for some reason...beyond the senior discount at Regal Cinema.  I spent two full days in the mountains, hiking the Appalachian Trail to Mount Whitetop, riding my bike on the Creeper Trail, and taking long walks through and around Green Cove, VA, with a side trip to Virginia Tech...perhaps to feel 18 again.

I was also away for a few days with my duties as Chairman of the Virginia Council for Private Education Board of Directors.  This group represents those who accredit private schools throughout the Commonwealth, including the Virginia Association of Independent Schools, through which Fork Union is accredited. 

On Monday cadets took their First Term Semester Exams...signifying the term's half-way point...a few cadets smiled as I saw them and said "It is hard to believe that 10% of the school year is already behind us...time goes too fast doesn't it?"  Of course each replied with a hearty "Yes, sir!," but on certain days they must think time can't go by fast enough.

While it will be invisible to the casual user, we've been working to migrate our current website from a "one man show" managed by Dan Thompson, our Director of Communications, to Finalsite, which will give us the opportunity to decentralize all the updates and add additional functionality.  The site will have the same domain name: www.forkunion.com, but will look different, and be easier to keep current and personalize. Look for more information to come about some useful features of our new website that you will enjoy using, and look for the new site to go "live" sometime soon.

We've also been working with UnderArmour as we consider standardizing all our athletic uniforms and cadet athletic clothing.  I visited their headquarters in Baltimore two months ago, and meet with Kevin Plank '91.  In addition to creating and producing a world-class product, UnderArmour also includes motivation and a positive attitude...free with each purchase.

The UnderArmour workplace was energizing and exciting.  The visit caused me to recommit to my own fitness level and a few pieces of technology to help me along the way...a fitness tracker (Jawbone) and intelligent scale (Withings).  These tools have helped these last few months, along with a pair of UA Speedform Apollo shoes (please click the link to see the video) and some new gear.  We'll consider a few proposals and keep parents and alumni informed of our final decision.

Part of my interest, is that I believe the quality and appeal of UnderArmor means that cadets will wear the PT gear all summer...and long after they graduate.  Before I even arrived here I started planning for a day when every graduate would wear a Fork Union shirt.  Right now we are planning for that to occur on September 30, 2015.  This is the anniversary of our founding in 1898.  Please stand by for more detail...and get your shirts ready.

I've mentioned our new Campus Master Plan more than a few times, and look forward to the final presentation by Glavé & Holmes Architects at our Board of Trustees meeting in October.  Once the plan is approved, we will distribute details, and arrange a series of presentations that chart the exciting future for our campus facilities.

One of my favorite activities here, in addition to the Corps of Cadet reviews, is to attend Chapel services on Tuesday and Thursday mornings.  I typically get there early, ahead of the cadets, and enjoy seeing the preparations, and the cadets quietly filing into their seats.  It is a way to gauge overall health, "morale," and fatigue.  I've already seen the positive impact of the additional time we've provided for sleep/study/reflection.  Today's message was particularly uplifting, as it focused on looking after those less fortunate.

The service started with a prayer by Cadet Captain Bamisile:

Dear Heavenly Father, we look deep into your mighty word and see the glory of the new world you will create according to your justice and truth.  We thank you for giving us this joy on Earth in the midst of all our toil and striving.  Protect us and in Jesus name we pray.  Amen.

Scripture tells us that it isn't enough to do good works.  We must also look after those who need our help.  We cannot ignore those less fortunate, or those who are being victimized in some way. 

Quoting first from the Book of Obadiah, Chaplain Benson segued to brief remarks from Cadet Lieutenant Brady, who addressed the Corps of Cadets about UNICEF's appeal to support the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.  The Interact Club has chosen this as a project this year, and a company competition has begun to raise $1,500 to donate from Fork Union Military Academy.  I've enjoyed the increased cadet involvement in day-to-day school activities this year.

Our juniors, seniors, and postgraduates welcomed more than forty colleges at our annual college fair in Estes Athletic Center.  It was exciting to see so many colleges represented and hear the positive comments on the demeanor of our cadets, whose eyes gleamed with interest...yet clearly showed the weight of this important decision.  Well, enough tangents...I better get back to work...

Go FUMA!

A Perpetual State of Improvement

By COL Todd Giszack, Academic Dean

Last summer we had the opportunity to clean up some classroom and lab spaces in Wicker Science Hall, where Cadets have been dissecting frogs and memorizing the Periodic Table since 1971.  In the process we came across some outdated equipment and old textbooks obviously years past their shelf life.  In fact, some of the Cadets who used that equipment and studied from those textbooks are now approaching retirement age themselves.  And so it goes in education. 

Like our equipment and textbooks, our programs and processes have to remain fresh, and able to prepare our graduates for the world that awaits them.  Fork Union Military Academy possesses a set of bedrock principles that define us.  We have always been and will remain a college preparatory, Christian, military boarding school for boys.  This is why alumni from generations ago still recognize their alma mater, as much of what they experienced here remains unchanged. 

But as an independent school in a competitive educational marketplace, we must remain in what I call a perpetual state of improvement.  This is good for our Cadets, and it is good for our school vitality.  Some improvements can occur quickly and without fanfare while others require strategy, and take time to implement.  Each must make us better, each must complement the existing programs found here, and each must meet the expectations of the families that entrust their sons to FUMA each year.  What follows is a sampling of recent additions to this set of "value propositions", the very things that make Fork Union Military Academy the beacon that it is.

Iambic Pentameter

I love poetry.  Iambic pentameter refers to the rhythm of certain poems, which is measured in small groups of syllables.  The word "iambic" refers the type of foot that is used...an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable.  The word "pentameter" indicates that a line has five of these "feet" [from Wikipedia].

We've been back in full rhythm for only a week, but it has been a full week.  The pentameter is our core values of respect, integrity, faith, character, and discipline.  This is the second year of embracing these as our foundation.  The foundation of any organization must be its values.  Without a solid foundation, nothing can stand for long.  MAJ James Benson, our Chaplain, presented respect and integrity at our first chapel services...basing each in Scripture.

It is reassuring to know that our young men learn the importance of these values...and even more important that our examples help cadets form habits around these key traits.  Fork Union Military Academy is no ordinary school.

This year our stressed syllables are:

  • The morning matters
  • Character is essential to leadership development
  • Improvement must be continuous and constant

Our Commandant of Cadets and Academic Departments are focusing on the 0600 to 0900 time-frame...ensuring that cadets start each day with a sharp military appearance, healthy breakfast, fully prepared for class, each class day beginning with the Pledge of Allegiance and a morning devotional.  We believe if everyone can start the day well, they will finish well...

Too many leaders today are derailed by flaws in their character.  We are all works in progress, but character is an essential quality of leadership.  This year our Director of Character and Leadership Development, LTC Houston Eldridge, is working directly with our cadet leaders, coaches, teachers, and staff to keep our focus on character and leadership.  As one of my mentors said once: "It is important to keep the main thing the main thing." 

Continual improvement, and the capacity for change, is also a hallmark of successful organizations.  I've been impressed this year by our willingness to be open to feedback, responsive to parents, and to accept constructive criticism while staying true to our values, mission, and vision. 

We started this year with 440 cadets.  Twenty-five more than last year, and our returning retention rate was 82%.  This is all very healthy and encouraging.  Our 10th and 11th grades are nearly filled to capacity.  We anticipate a fairly large number of cadets enrolling in October to begin our second term.

Tomorrow at 1015 the cadets will gather at Commandant's Call and learn about the various activities at Fork Union.  If parents want to encourage their sons in a certain direction, the activities list (not including athletics) is posted here: Activities and Clubs.  The Commandant's Department also puts out a monthly Activities Newsletter, which is available here: Upper School Activities Newsletter - September 2014.

Some are saying this is one of the smoothest starts in our history.  We are encouraged by the example set by our cadet leaders.  One of our company commanders asked our Director of Technology to ensure that no officers or NCO's in that company receive their laptops until each cadet [Private] in that company had received theirs.  And I'm told that the officers in another company make it a point to eat only after their entire company has been through the line.

These two examples reflect the best leadership I observed while on active duty, and signal the end of a "rank has its privileges" culture.  We prefer to see that "rank has its responsibilities" to strengthen, support, and remove obstacles for those entrusted to their care.

We will find more ways this year to have cadets lead various activities.  A small step today involved two cadets leading the Corps in song before the chapel service, and a brand new 9th grader has volunteered to sing the National Anthem before this weekend's postgraduate football game.  This will be worth seeing and hearing.  The game begins at 1500 (3:00pm).

Our sports season is in full swing, and Betsy and I will begin attending many events, beginning with the prep football game against Goochland High tomorrow night (in Goochland).  We host our Fork Union Cross Country Invitational on Saturday, anticipating over a thousand runners at our world-class cross country course on Academy Drive...a mile walk (or run) from our main campus.

It is terrific to have the campus full, and to be back in poetic rhythm once again. We may not fully rhyme until a little later this month...certainly by Parents' Weekend.  We hope that all our parents are making plans to attend.  There is much left to do...not the least of which is to make final preparations for our decennial reaccreditation visit later this school year.

I better get back to finalizing our faculty promotion list, preparing for our Board of Trustees meetings, finalizing The Campaign, reviewing our draft campus master plan, approving final plans for a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) Certification, answering parents, resolving uniform issues centered around obsolete items, and discerning the stressed from the unstressed syllables...

Next week I've asked COL Todd Giszack to be a "guest blogger" for a variety of reasons, many of which will be evident after you read his blog.

Go School's Beginning! Go Blue Devils! Go FUMA!

Our 117th Convocation

At 0945 the Upper School Corps of Cadets, faculty, staff, and administration gathered in Wicker Chapel for our 117th Convocation.  This week's blog is my address to this assembly.  We've started the year with 440 cadets, which is more than twenty cadets higher than last year, and includes record reenrollment of former cadets returning.  God is surely blessing our school with such fine young men.  Enjoy.

"Today officially opens the 117th Academic Session.

Over the last few years I've talked about what it means to be a Fork Union man.

A Fork Union man works for his future.

He sacrifices a little fun today to secure his tomorrow.

He supports his fellow cadets...his brothers.

This year's cadet leaders were selected because we believe they will help their fellow cadets be more successful.

Last year, nine out of ten cadets who started the year finished the year.  It isn't that hard to do...it is actually quite simple, but not easy.

This year I would like it to be ten out of ten.  I want to do even better than last year.

The Superintendent of another military school in Virginia asked his cadets this year to embrace the motto: "Don't leave anyone behind"...

I want you to do much better than that...after all we are the best college prep, Christian, military school in the world.

And we know it isn't good enough to not leave people behind.  We reach back and even reach down to pull others up to the front...maybe even pulling or pushing them ahead of us...

That is what leaders with character do.

We went to great lengths to make sure every young man here in the Chapel has the brains, the character, and the physical stamina to succeed.

At the close of last year I said that the future of Fork Union Military Academy was bright.

That bright future is in this room today.

This is the finest collection of individuals ever assembled at Fork Union Military Academy for the first day of school in Wicker Chapel.

Time will only tell whether this is the best Corps of Cadets to be assembled.

Thank you for attending Fork Union Military Academy, and welcome to the long gray line that includes many distinguished graduates.

Over the summer I met with a few graduates.

Brian Zitterkopf graduated in 2008.  He is now a first lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps, choosing to commission as a Marine after graduating from the United States Naval Academy in 2012.

He struggled here at first, but graduated second in his class.  He served as our graduation speaker for the Class of 2013.  He made us all very proud.

Another graduate, Blake Sundel, is beginning his senior year at Harvard University.  He was working in Boston helping disadvantaged youth and shared his passion for improving cities in developing countries. 

He graduated in 2011, and wanted a recommendation from Fork Union for his Marshall and Rhodes Scholar applications...knowing that the unique education received here may give him an advantage in this very competitive process.

I also learned this summer that Russ Garver, a young man who was a cadet here for 6th through 12th grade, and enlisted in the Navy after graduation, had just earned his Rescue Swimmer qualification.  This requires tremendous discipline, tenacity, and courage.

I also went to the Under Armour Headquarters in Baltimore to meet Kevin Plank.  He graduated from our postgraduate football program in 1991.  His is the founder of Under Armour, and spoke highly of his classmates.  They still have a close bond.  He also told me that the experience here...in particular the time to reflect, study, and think clearly helped him on his path to success.

When you read your Bibles, I recommend you read about Timothy, a young church leader.  Paul, his mentor told him the same thing I often tell young people:

‘Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith...do not neglect your gift which was given to you...’

Each of you is a gift from God, and has unique gifts given by God.

Over the last few days I've been more impressed than ever by the young men I've met.  I see ambitious young people who clearly want to be successful, and know they are in the right place to ensure that success.

I can see that you want to take advantage of everything this school has to offer.  You are so determined and focused that it will challenge us to meet your high expectations.  Know that we too have high expectations for you.

Keep challenging us...and get the most from each quality interaction.  We are here for you, and we have very intentionally chosen this path.

You see, we believe we can add value to the world by pulling each of you up, so that you can accomplish even more than we've accomplished.

At the risk of being too honest with you, there are days that I wonder: ‘What in the world am I doing in Fork Union?’

Some days you may wonder the same thing.

Please know that in the same way God placed each of us here, He placed you here.  We are here to strengthen you, and by accepting our help, you will strengthen us.

I hope you will realize that God wants you here...and that He will want you to make the most of your time.

At the opening meetings with faculty, I challenged them to set a positive example.

I told them that I know cadets are paying closer attention to what we do, than to what we say...even though the words we choose must be chosen carefully.

Faculty, staff, and administrators must set examples of military decorum, adult conduct, and Christian character.

There are three things I am going to ask of everyone in this Chapel from the moment we leave this morning.

The first is to abide by the Honor Code: "I will not lie, cheat, or steal; or tolerate those who do."

I visited Hampden-Sydney College this summer, and a recent graduate put it like this:

‘If you lie you are a liar, if you cheat you are a cheater, and if you steal you are a thief.  If you tolerate others who do, you are not a Hampton-Sydney man.’

You are not a Fork Union man either.

If you live by our core values, abiding by the Honor Code will be easy.

The second request is already in cadet regulations, but I am going to ask for more than just compliance.

When you are in uniform and pass a uniformed 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 to be accompanied by a hearty "Good Morning, Good Afternoon, or Good Evening."

While you only salute while in uniform, I don't want you to ever 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 third and final request, 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 have to ask you to do...

If we all do those three things, live honorably, greet each other with respect and enthusiasm, and do good works, we will create an environment everyone will want to be a part of...a very special place...a sanctuary...

...a place where everyone knows why they are here: to serve God and to serve his fellow man.

It is great to have you all back.

I'm going to end with some advice that Coach London, the head football coach for the University of Virginia gives to each of his players:

‘Go to class.  Show class and treat people with dignity and respect.  Those directions are pretty easy to follow and will lead you on the path to success.’

Go Books!  Go Blue Devils!  Go FUMA!"

Developing Leaders

By RADM J. Scott Burhoe & Dan Thompson

A blog post published this week by John Chubb, the President of the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), got me thinking about just how different Fork Union Military Academy is from so many other schools.

Chubb's blog article entitled "What is Leadership?" describes his own experience in taking the reins of the NAIS, the nation's largest association of private schools. The first paragraph begins with this remarkable admission: "I was unprepared to be a leader." A noted scholar, teacher, and researcher, Chubb's résumé is broad and impressive. His career has included positions at Stanford University and the Brookings Institute. His selection as the top leader in an organization made up of the finest schools in the nation is a reflection of the respect his peers have for his skills and reputation in the world of education. And yet, Chubb had never received any training or experience in how to be a leader.

For more than a hundred years, students have graduated from Fork Union Military Academy with more formal training and practical experience in leadership than most people will receive in a lifetime. This focus on leadership development is one key area that sets our Academy apart from other schools in the nation. While a handful of students in another school might participate in some type of student government or campaign in a popularity contest for class president, the Corps of Cadets at Fork Union Military Academy offers dozens of students each year the opportunity to practice genuine leadership among their peers in roles with real responsibility.

The Corps of Cadets is student-run, with adult supervision. Cadets are organized into squads of a handful of boys, led by a squad leader. Those squads join together with others to form a platoon of twenty or thirty cadets, with a platoon sergeant and a cadet officer assigned as platoon leader. Those platoons join with others to form a company with perhaps seventy to one hundred cadets led by a company commander, supported by an executive officer and a first sergeant. The companies join together to form the battalion, with a battalion commander and his staff of officers and non-commissioned officers.

This leadership structure oversees the daily activities of students, seeing to it that daily chores are carried out, discipline is maintained, esprit de corps is built, and each student is surrounded by a positive atmosphere of achievement and accomplishment. This is not just some role-playing game with students pretending to be leaders. Cadet leaders get real-world experience in team building, leading by example, the use of discretion in dealing with disciplinary issues, and motivating others. This is the kind of practical experience that builds the skills and confidence needed to succeed in a competitive world.

In a speech at US Military Academy at West Point in 1991, General Norman Schwarzkopf told the cadets of his alma mater, "To be a 21st-century leader, you must have two things: competence and character." Fork Union Military Academy has long recognized this intertwining need for developing leadership skills and character together. Indeed, this call for character building combined with leadership development was enshrined in our school's mission statement long before the 21st century rolled around.

This year, in a move designed to both highlight this area of emphasis and to further improve our efforts in this field, we have created a new staff position, the Director of Character and Leadership Development. LTC Houston Eldridge has been selected to take on this new role, and he will be providing training and daily mentoring for our cadet leaders. LTC Eldridge has served as a social studies teacher at the Academy for more than fifteen years. He has been teaching a very popular leadership course in our summer school for the past several years and has served as Scoutmaster for the Academy's Boy Scout Troop 125. LTC Eldridge will work within the commandant's office and report directly to school president, RADM J. Scott Burhoe, as he develops a new and improved comprehensive program of character and leadership development for the Academy.

Our graduates will continue to succeed in leadership roles throughout the business world, in the military, and even, like John Chubb, in the field of education. Those graduates will follow in the footsteps of alumni such as Joseph Cosby (FUMA Class of 1921) who served many years as the president of Hargrave Military Academy, or Edward Jennings (FUMA Class of 1955) who was the tenth President of Ohio State University. We can predict confidently that these alumni will be men who will look back and say, "I was well prepared to be a leader, thanks to the education I received at Fork Union Military Academy."

Go cadet leadership! Go FUMA!

Finish - Rest - Refresh - Recharge - Renew - Begin Again

If you are reading this from the website, you can see for yourself how well we finished.  The 116th Commencement is well documented, and we were all blessed by the keynote speech given by 1LT Brian Zitterkopf, USMC, who graduated from FUMA in 2008, the USNA in 2012, and is now on active duty with the United States Marines.  He was inspirational, and more importantly kept the attention of our graduates, who were anxious to begin the next chapter in their lives, better for having experienced Fork Union.

The entire week of graduation went extremely well...punctuated by the very positive behavior of our undergraduates and the Class of 2014.  I visited Jacobson Hall the next day, and was impressed to find that our new dormitory looked as good as the day we moved in...less than two years ago (believe it or not).  Today it looks as good as the day we moved in.

Since graduation we've hosted three one-week swim camps, and are now in the middle of summer school, and a basketball camp we are sponsoring (as a school) for the first time.  It has been energizing to see the camps so full of young people being refreshed in body, mind, and spirit.

A week after graduation, Betsy and I loaded up our bikes...filled the car with our most comfortable clothes...and headed west to Mount Rogers National Recreational Area to my favorite spot in the mountains.  Thankfully there is still no cell phone coverage, but TV and internet was available...but sparsely used.  The week was filled with runs, walks, bike rides, reading books, great food, one quick rescue of a runner from SC who lost his footing, and even an evening of "culture" in nearby Abingdon, for a live performance of "Welcome Back to Ivy Gap" at the Barter Theater.

It was a wonderful "getaway," and an opportunity to rest, refresh, recharge, read, and renew.  I was able to read 4 of the 6 books I took along...and finally found a book which will be our first "All Faculty Read."  I ordered 20 copies of The Other Wes Moore written by Wes Moore which will be in the library available for checkout, but know many of our faculty will download the book electronically [maybe after reading this blog]. 

I really only have 19 copies, because I gave one to a Summer School student yesterday afternoon, believing that many of the points made by the author might help him understand the crossroads he now faces...okay, 18, because I talked about the book so much, my Secretary, Ms. Carol Childress wanted to read it...

We then visited Florida to celebrate my mother's 89th birthday...the next time we see her will be in early August when she drives up to Winchester to visit her 3 (of 4) great-grandchildren  My mother has missed my blog these last 5 weeks...so I needed to start it back up.

As the Navy SEAL's say, "the only easy day was yesterday."   We are working diligently at Fork Union Military Academy to make next year the best school year in our history.  There are many important changes in strategy, structure, personnel, schedule, and facilities we will be implementing over the summer and at the beginning of the school year.  Our core values and mission, however, remain timeless.

All the improvements are consistent with yearlong discussions with faculty, staff, trustees, cadets, and parents...validated by some parent/cadet surveys.  We are reformatting the ever-important Cadet regulations, to make it easier to read and understand, as well as making policies clearer.  We are also clarifying our uniform regulations, as this will continue to be a point of emphasis this year. 

LTC Houston Eldridge, our Director of Character and Leadership, is also meeting regularly with me and the Commandant of Cadets to ensure we fully integrate character and leadership throughout the Academy, with emphasis on our cadet leaders and those of us who interact directly and often with cadets.

We are continuing forward momentum toward the vision articulated in our strategic plan, and all our summer adjustments will help us educate and develop "bright young men who can lead with character."

Over the summer we took the Dorothy Estes Dining Facility off our central boiler, and onto its own domestic hot water system.  Sounds dull, but it is expensive and hard work.  Hobart is building us a custom dishwasher, the latest water saving model, which will be installed in mid-August, just in time to start the school year. 

The project was funded primarily through a bequest by Jon Richardson, a trustee and alumnus who passed away after a long battle with cancer.  He and I spoke of this project, and he was pleased to know we could invest money now to save money later (in water and fuel oil).  This change will allow us to shut the boilers down 6 months each year, saving enough in 3 years to pay for the project...besides the immediate reduction in our carbon footprint.

We also plan to give Wicker Science a facelift, matching the color with the surrounding buildings, are adding overhead projectors to every classroom, upgrading our phones to voice over IP, painting as many places as can be painted, upgrading some faculty housing, improving classroom décor, and looking for a four day "no rain" window so we can repaint our football stadium.

This summer also included a number of meetings on our Master Plan.  We expect it completed by the October Board of Trustees meeting, to help inform a campaign to make the strategic planning and master planning a reality.  We also selected our cadet leaders for next year, and invited our very best to attend leadership training which begins a week before school starts.  This requires quite a commitment of time and energy, but the effective way to learn to lead is to lead...and this year's student leaders will be the best led since the school's founding.

All the prospective leaders are enthusiastic, optimistic, and willing to do the hard work necessary to help guide their classmates and underclassmen in a journey of accountability and discipline.

Let the 117th School Year begin!  Go FUMA!

My Dreams

This is my last blog of the school year.  I will write another shortly after graduation, and perhaps update everyone in the middle of the summer.  With only 8 days until the Upper School commencement and 6 days to the Middle School graduation, time is becoming even more precious, and the choices difficult.

To write this blog, as well as two letters of recommendations later tonight, I'll have to miss the Annual Faculty/Senior Basketball game.  Just for the record, it's not because no one asked me to play...that I understand, but as everyone reading this knows, life is full of choices, and we often don't know if we've made the right one until long after the consequences are felt.

Fork Union Military Academy, for cadets and staff alike, is about making choices...and from many cadet conversations I've had this week, cadets make better choices when they listen, understand, and internalize the lessons we teach...but that learning can't be forced...it happens in cadet time, not ours. 

Chaplain Benson preached today that our real "Cadet Regulations" and "Faculty Handbook" is the Bible.  If we all used scripture as our strategic plan and guiding document, things would run smoothly.  Just saying...

A highlight for me this week was spending time with COL Bill Hitchcock's International Relations class.  I learned what they were studying, but also told them I could answer any questions they had, as long as they didn't relate to the subject matter of the class, because my area of expertise was independent private education and FUMA...the pace of those two things consume all my time during the school year.

I enjoyed the many questions, and the cadets were exceedingly polite and respectful in the way they listened and built on the answers.  One question related to what I would want to be "remembered for" after my tenure.  I told them that my true "passion" was unfettered access to quality education.  I believe that everyone should have access to a quality education regardless of their ability to pay. 

My dream is to have a school that educates, develops, and inspires young men in a college preparatory, Christian, military environment.  We'll help them build character, learn leadership, become independent, confident, responsible, and disciplined.  These young men will weave together a strong body, alert mind, and vibrant spirit.  Being able to afford tuition, room, board, and uniforms will be a secondary consideration for the best and most qualified students.

We'll accomplish this only by building our endowment, particularly in the area of access scholarships.  This will revive Dr. Hatcher's founding spirit and intention.  He was interested in reaching as many young people as possible...and he filled the school...worrying about how to pay for it later. 

Fork Union needs to influence more young men.  There is no doubt in anyone's mind that the world would be a better place if more of its inhabitants were FUMA graduates.

LTC (select) Houston Eldridge was announced this week as our full-time Director of Character and Leadership.  He is our Social Studies Department Head, and well-known for the Leadership Course he teaches each summer.  It is one of our most popular Summer School classes. 

Houston will work directly for me next year as we fully implement the first of our five strategic goals. Clicke here to view the Strategic Plan.  His challenge is to "Integrate Character and Leadership Development throughout the Academy," and he will facilitate this by guiding our cadet leaders as they lead and organize the Corps of Cadets through the daily routine.

I've also tasked him with creating a publishable guidebook that will articulate the FUMA leadership model, and become a "best practice" for military secondary schools, and asked him to create an "outward bound" type program to help us redirect and motivate cadets who may be struggling with how and why to comply with the rules and regulations in our strict, structured, military environment.

All of this is a tall order, but we have great confidence in him, and those who will support him in this effort. 

Yesterday evening we held an Eagle Scout Court of Honor for Jasher Grunau.  He graduated last year, and just completed his first year as an engineering major at Virginia Tech (Go Hokies!).  It was a terrific event, and brought back great memories of my own Court of Honor in April of 1969.  Listening to the Scout Law, Oath, Motto, and remarks by LTC Don Moore reminded me of the significance of this milestone.  LTC Moore's final story was about a 1942 Fork Union graduate. 

Now in his late 80's, this alumnus talks about God, his family, the Army, FUMA, and becoming an Eagle Scout.  It was a heartwarming story of his meaningful, intentional life (still being) well lived, yet two of the most significant memories in his life occurred over 7 decades ago...which was a reminder to the cadets listening to make the most of their adolescent years...

Yesterday a cadet approached me to ask if I would support an initiative to assist victims of the South Korea ferry capsizing.  Many school children were impacted during this ferry mishap, and some of our South Korean students are selling wristbands inscribed with "One small movement leads to big miracles."  The proceeds from selling these $2.00 bands will be sent directly to the hospitals to support the victims and their families.

The last "event" in my day was a cadet initiative by our newly formed Global Citizens Club.  They planted a tree to honor our four faculty retirees, Mrs. Hanlin, COL Hardy, COL Ransone, and Mrs. Armstrong.  The tree also honors the Class of 2014.  Cadet Anand Sodkhuu, the Club President, hopes this annual "tree planting" will become a tradition...which will certainly help us beautify the entrance at Pettit-Foster Lane.

I'll close this blog with a portion of Ms. Katherine Giszack's remarks from today's ceremony.  She is the club's faculty advisor:

"Trees are highly symbolic, and they are seen throughout the art and literature of many cultures.  In fact, the Bible begins in Genesis with a story of two trees - the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the tree of life.  Unfortunately, humankind did not choose life in that case, but when we fast-forward to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, we see another tree, as the cross turned death into life.  And in the end, Revelation gives us a picture of heaven, where we again see the tree of life.  Revelations 22:2 describes the tree of life, "whose leaves are for the healing of the nations."

I invited the Class of 2014 to visit the tree often, and certainly in 2064 for their 50th reunion...when, who knows, one of them might be the President of Fork Union Military Academy.

Go Dreams!  Go Trees!  Go FUMA!

Gate of the Year

Last week we hosted the Board of Trustees on Thursday and Friday, and our returning alumni on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.  It was a terrific "homecoming" for our 50 year class, the Class of 1964.  After dinner a member of the class was reciting a poem, and when I asked him what it was, he said it was on a plaque outside Wicker Chapel.  It says:

"And I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the Year: 'Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.'  And he replied: 'Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God.  That shall be to you better than light and safer than the known way."

I was fascinated that he and others in the class had memorized the poem, and could still recite it. On Sunday we went over to look at the poem together, and relive a few more memories.  To learn more about the significance of the passage, please visit: http://ww2today.com/.

After the weekend festivities, I received a note from another member of the class, and forwarded it along to the cadets, faculty, and staff, who worked so hard to put the weekend together:

"My wife & I just arrived home from our reunion, and though it has been a long day, I couldn't wait to send you a brief note to reiterate how impressed we both were with what you and your staff are accomplishing at FUMA.  The campus and grounds look great, and all of the festivities were very well done. 

Most of all, however, we were impressed with the quality of several young men we happened to speak to randomly on Saturday and today — every one of them was polite, engaging, and seemed genuinely happy to be there.

It is reassuring and gratifying to know that the quality of the experience these cadets are receiving is every bit as good as the experience I had in my four years at FUMA.

The food Saturday evening and Sunday was OUTSTANDING!  Please commend the food service personnel. 

Thank you again... not only for the wonderful weekend, but for what [everyone does] there every day."

It was such a pleasure to host our alumni on campus and share memories with them, but our alumni do much more than offer their fellowship. Our alumni are the unsung heroes of the Academy in providing financial support for our ongoing growth. A big thank you is due to all of our sponsors for this weekend, including alumni Ken Koeller and Bill Yancey who helped underwrite the costs of our golf tournament, so all monies raised could go to the benefit of our cadets.

Of course great weekends come to an end, and there are new challenges.  I spent this afternoon with the Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors, talking about water and water rates.  Our rates may soon increase significantly, and this is an acceptable path as long as the infrastructure improves and accessibility to water continues.  These meetings are reminders of the beauty (and challenges) that come from being located in such a rural environment.

I couldn't resist giving a few facts that have nothing to do with water, including letting everyone in the room know that our outdoor track team ran the Sprint Medley on Friday, setting a meet record, school record, and ran the fastest time in Virginia (which is also the 4th fastest time in the United States)...and announced that reenrollment, visits, and applications are higher this year [which should help us pay the water bill].

Today was a first in Fork Union Military Academy history, in that we encouraged our seniors to wear a T-shirt signifying their college of choice.  Most cadets have received their acceptance letters and made their decisions, and it was fun to see the different colors, and a few more smiles.

We also met with the seniors after Chapel on Tuesday to go over plans for graduation, and to show them what their diplomas will look like.  Our Middle School will graduate in two weeks, and our Upper School will graduate the following Saturday.  My vacation plans are made, but admittedly they won't get much thought or anticipation until May 25th.  There just isn't enough time to think about it...

This prayer by Cadet Ro summed up many of our feelings:

"Lord Almighty God.  We want to take the time to thank you for everything you helped us get through, and all the blessings you have given us.  Lord, from day one we asked that you help us become men of respect, integrity, faith, character, and discipline...and you never stopped teaching us and guiding us on that path.  So, again Lord, we want to thank you for everything you have done.  Amen."

While it seems like the Military Ball was quite some time ago, it was just two weekends ago, and there are pictures posted on our website.  It was a terrific evening, the night after hosting an Open House where more than 40 families came to visit the campus, receiving tours by cadets, and personal interviews.  The Ball was well attended (over 150) and the Arch of Sabers was flawless.  We all enjoyed seeing the seniors announced in a wonderfully decorated Thomas Gym.  If you see cadets in the pictures with funny hats and glasses, don't despair, there was a photo booth, and some eccentric props were available.

That same weekend our FUMA Band won first place in the Charlottesville Dogwood Festival Parade, where they marched with the Middle School Dillard Guard.

On a personal note, I was nominated and will serve as Board Chairman for the Virginia Council for Private Education (VCPE) Board of Directors.  VCPE essentially "accredits the accreditors" for private schools in Virginia, including Fork Union Military Academy's accreditation organization, the Virginia Association of Independent Schools (VAIS).  While this may take me away from the school on occasion, it will keep me tuned in to all issues impacting private education, not only in Virginia, but nationwide.  Wish me luck.

These thousand words didn't do these last two weeks justice...so I'll close with a few pictures from the last few weeks to fill in the last ten words.

Go FUMA!

 

Called to Lead

At a recent staff meeting, we were discussing our ever-improving retention and reenrollment numbers...they are at record highs this year...the highest since we've been keeping records.  This is good news, particularly considering that today's youth are much more involved in the school selection process, unlike 20-30 years ago when parents decided [without input] what was best for their children. 

While this puts more pressure on all schools, and particularly schools like ours where the rewards don't appear so immediate, much research suggests that the ability to defer immediate gratification leads to a more successful future.  I also believe young people are brighter today than ever, more discerning, and less likely to accept the "advertisement" and more interested in "the reality."

Knowing this, all schools must include students (in our case cadets) in decision processes.  I'm not recommending we do everything they suggest, but am suggesting that the more they understand "why," the more willingly they will adapt to this environment.

On Friday before Easter Break we met with the 8th graders, providing a glimpse at life in Upper School, and encouraging them to return for the 9th grade.  It preceded a very quiet weekend, as only about 40 cadets remained on campus...but those few were treated to the First Annual Fraley Circle Easter Egg Hunt [the White House has nothing on us].

This Sunday is our first formal review of the season.  I watched parade practice on Wednesday afternoon at 1430 (2:30 PM).  This is probably the same day and time cadets have been practicing for decades...and I was impressed by the effort.  Clearly the practice is paying off.  Military drill teaches teamwork, leadership, and logistics.  Besides, everybody loves a parade [unless of course you are marching in it].

This review will honor four senior faculty members who are retiring at the end of this year, Ms. Bev Hanlin, COL Fred Hardy, COL John Ransone, and Ms. Lynn Armstrong.  We will miss all four, and of course Fork Union Military Academy will not be the same without them.  We will also recognize and honor them next weekend.

This Saturday is our Military Ball.  So many cadets are attending this year that we will hold it in Thomas Gym (like the old days).  I spoke with a young man today whose girlfriend is flying in from Illinois to attend the dance.  Betsy and I will be there, and it will be fun to put on Coast Guard "Dinner Dress Blue" again.

Today marks 30 days to the Upper School graduation.  Ms. Bev Hanlin and I went over the award ceremonies and commencement details.  Soon we will meet with the graduating seniors, so that they know the details to provide their families.  If you have any questions about activities, please visit our website, and if you have any questions about graduation, please call the Commandant of Cadets or the Registrar.

We are making preparations for the Board of Trustee meetings, and our annual Alumni Weekend.  This is 4 full days of action-packed excitement...an "all hands" activity...we are particularly looking forward to hosting the Class of 1964 for their 50th reunion.  Where did the time go? 

This week General John T. Chain, Jr. '52 visited the campus.  I enjoyed hearing stories of his cadet days from 1948-1952.  He picked a beautiful day to visit, and marveled at the new barracks, Jacobson Hall, and seeing many campus improvements for the first time (library expansion, new swimming pool, social center).  I had fun contrasting and comparing "yesterday" to today, and was pleased to hear him embrace the many changes with appreciation and vigor.

Like nearly everyone who served so successfully for decades in the Armed Forces of the United States, he's learned to adapt and embrace change.  As we toured the campus and interacted with faculty, staff, and cadets...all who welcomed him home...my message was that we should treat every cadet as though they may one day become a four star general...

I will close with the remarks I made to the 8th graders, as I explained the value of military high schools and why it is important for those "called to lead" to attend Fork Union Military Academy:

"As I examine the landscape of American culture, a crisis is looming.  It is a crisis of education, a crisis of culture, a crisis of faith.  There must be people, united by a common purpose, who prepare young people to do the hard work of leading others.  President Roosevelt describes this as being "the man who is actually in the arena." 

There must be schools like this that give young people what they need, which doesn't always match what they want.  This is the only way we will maintain this nation's freedom and our system of democracy.  There must be young men, willing to sacrifice a little fun today, for a brighter future in which they are prepared to lead others with character.

Military academies, particularly those like ours that prepare young people for college; grounded by strong faith in God and Christian values; and with an emphasis on physical fitness, are an answer to solving this crisis that results from self-gratification and a quest to collect worldly possessions rather than serving the common good.

Throughout time there has always been a core group of young men who were destined to lead others...perhaps even called to lead.  For those, there must be a place, free of distractions and excesses where they can focus on timeless values, academic preparation, and physical stamina; a place where they learn to communicate and build trust; a place that builds responsibility with well supervised risk-taking.

Earlier this week, Olympic gold medal swimmer Josh Davis, spoke and defined freedom as the ability to do the right thing, wherever you are, regardless of what anyone around you is doing.

While it may sound incongruous, military schools teach freedom, even when it appears to the casual observer as though the students are little less free. 

Those who are called to lead others, or have a passion for leading others (and are willing to learn), should consider college-preparatory (100% of our students are accepted to college), Christian (faith-based), military schools.  Life at Fork Union is not easy, in fact the experience is a real challenge, but as can be seen in the success of our graduates, is clearly worth it. 

On the other hand, if you are not called to lead, but are destined to follow, any school may do."

Go Leadership! Go FUMA!