At each of the nation's service academies, this time is called the "Dark Ages." Bitter cold, grey skies, snow and ice that mysteriously reappears, and while there is a bit more light since the Winter Solstice, the sun is not up nearly long enough. These are the days that build character, and require cadets to visualize spring...and the pleasant days that lie ahead.
It turns out the polar vortex was just foreshadowing the weeks that followed, but there are still many areas of brightness and warmth, including the quality of the daily meals, and a new feature called the "Weight Watchers" line. This special serving line features a meal prepared with a specific blend of protein, carbohydrates, and fat (if you skip dessert) to shed a few pounds and stay in balance. Our Director of Dining Services and his staff have worked hard to create this initiative, and it offers additional accountability many need to resist the temptation of over-eating.
Good food helps us get through these dark ages...in the same way planned activities help. Last week, we had a "ribbon cutting" outside a kitchen area refurbished in the basement of Hatcher Hall. It is the new meeting place for our Cooking Club. I can almost hear alumni all over the country saying: "Cooking Club? What in the world will they do next? Form a Sewing Club?"
This club shows you that young men haven't changed all that much, other than become brighter and more forward thinking than ever. When I asked one of the cadets why he joined the Cooking Club, he told me: "That's easy, Admiral. Women like men who can cook!" It is indeed a different world, and we are preparing young men for it...
Another activity that lifts cadets is our band. I met with two cadets regarding ideas on ways to attract more "musically inclined" students, and assured them that music is a critical component of a military school. Bugle calls, drum cadence, the National Anthem, marches...they all reflect the reputation and strength of the school. Betsy and I travelled to Farmville, VA one foggy and rainy night, to watch 10 cadets perform in the Longwood Honors Band. For those on Instagram, I posted three videos on our Academy's page which is instagram.com/ForkUnion. I was proud of our cadets, and it looked like we had more participants than any other school.
I travelled to Richmond the following week to watch our Junior Prep Basketball Team play Saint Christopher...and was impressed by their determination, composure, and energy. I meant to ask the head of St. Chris how they managed to find young men so much taller than ours...but on the court everyone played big. I was encouraged by a conversation with one of our parents that same afternoon, who spoke so highly of her son's growth and maturity...and that she looked forward to seeing her son "walking across the stage" at his graduation in a few years.
One way to beat the dark ages is to spend some time planning for Summer School. We are very excited about new course offerings, including a partnership we are developing with Richard Bland College, in Petersburg, VA. I encourage everyone who may be interested to visit our Summer School section of the web site. Our two new courses this year are:
The Personal Finance course has been designed to help students become financially responsible. Students will be given information on; money management, budgeting, and financial goal attainment. Students will also analyze "real world" scenarios using principles of accounting and economics.
Intro to Computer Modeling, Simulation and Gaming
An introductory course for Computer Modeling, Simulation, and Gaming (M&S) for high school students interested in cyber security, video game design, crime scene reconstruction, and more. Topics include basic definitions, M&S paradigms and methodologies, computer languages, visual design principles, and software methods. Information literacy and research methods are addressed. Papers and oral presentations are required and will allow the student to investigate different aspects of the discipline. This course is a synchronous online course offered in partnership with Richard Bland College.
These last two weeks have been full of meetings with parents, visits by potential new cadets, and even meeting current cadets seeking "last minute" recommendations for college. There is always time in the schedule to write a recommendation for deserving cadets...each one unique and tailored to the individual student (thanks to Ms. Carol Childress, my Secretary, who creates a draft). We were also fortunate to learn that two of our cadets received nominations to the Naval Academy and West Point, and two are competing for appointments at the Coast Guard Academy.
One of our Trustees, RADM Frank Rennie, USNR, Ret., met with 11 cadets over lunch, to talk about the Naval Academy and the best path to an appointment. He also assisted one of our seniors by providing a letter of recommendation. RADM Rennie is a 1976 Annapolis graduate. His enthusiasm for the Navy and Service Academies is contagious and will help generate even more cadet interest.
We also took some time to reinforce the campus alarm system to cadets. Early one morning the cadets stood outside in formation, and listened to the difference between our "lightning is within 3 miles" alarm, and our Code Blue (armed intruder) and Code Yellow (weather emergency) alarms. In class later the same morning, each faculty member went over procedures for each potential emergency, and the actions cadets (and faculty) should take.
One of our sophomore cadets arranged a meeting to discuss creating a "JROTC-like" unit. I've had a long-standing conversation with an active alumnus from the Class of 1942. I am gaining more clarity to a concern alumni have about our "military programs." To many, the word military is synonymous with "Armed Forces," not formations, drill, uniforms, and chain-of-command. While we are strict, disciplined, and orderly [we are military] we don't associate with any particular branch of service.
I plan to work with this cadet and the Commandant of Cadets to create a program that gives interested cadets a glimpse into the life of soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen, and guardians. This organization, a "Military Science Club" [until we come up with a better name] could provide a nucleus of strong leaders for our nation's military and our Corps of Cadets. We are also examining ways to provide elective credits in leadership and military science.
Despite the dark ages, we are all moving forward to improve this great school. One of my highlights this week didn't involve cadets, but was a meeting with our Decennial Reaccreditation Steering Committee. It reinforced all the reasons I stayed in education after leaving the Coast Guard Academy.
I found myself with faculty and administrators who were excited, engaged, and working collaboratively to improve Fork Union Military Academy. They all approached this task of accreditation not as list of tasks to "check off," but instead an opportunity to continually improve this school. There was active involvement, collegiality, listening, talking, disagreement, and agreement...the kind of candid, honest conversation that makes good things happen. It was refreshing to know that I didn't even need to be there...
I entered the meeting a bit worn down, but left energized and refreshed, knowing that our cadets were in the hands of people who really cared about their future, and the organization that surrounded them.
I wish there was more time and space to summarize the four amazing chapel services...but will close with a "Kiplinger" summary of each, followed by Cadet Ro's prayer, and a note from a parent:
"Everybody makes choices...make the right choices...dumb [choices] can last forever...if you choose correctly you are rewarded...if you choose incorrectly you suffer consequences...everything you do impacts somebody...a man does what he needs to...a boy does what he wants to."
"Courage isn't about lack of fear...have courage of the commonplace...take the opportunity to do the right thing...don't dance for the wrong people... Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go."
"When my house burned down, all I lost was stuff...I still have you [cadets]...you have meaning...what a friend we have in Jesus...are you accepting the gift?"
"Be humble...take an interest in others...love your God with all your heart...love your neighbor as yourself...be second, or third, or last...but put God first."
Cadet Ro's prayer:
"Loving Father God...Lord you know our every thought and every action and when someone offends us our immediate response may be to fight back or to scheme against him, but Lord help us to have the heart of forgiveness and the heart of caring for one another and Lord we ask that you forgive us when we do fight back and help us, guide us, and direct us to go toward the cross. Amen"
Letter from a parent:
I thought you might like to read what my son sent me yesterday. This is a big reason we sent him to you, to help him see a little more outside himself and to think of the needs of others. This email made our day and I hope it does the same for you.
From her son, slightly edited for anonymity:
"I was at chapel today and they were talking about thankfulness and forgiveness. I just wanted to thank you for everything you have done in my life and anything you do for me in the future. I know your life is hard and I am thankful that you take time to make mine just a little bit better. If you could tell Dad I am thankful for what he does too, that would be most appreciated."
Go FUMA! Indeed.