From the President of Fork Union Military Academy, Rear Admiral J. Scott Burhoe.
A rainy Sunday after an exhausting week seems like the perfect time to write a blog. We've been blessed with nice weather, after the coldest two weeks (right after the holiday break) I've ever felt in Virginia. The Corps of Cadets and the school have much to be proud of...
My last blog talked about grit and resilience. It has been shown in abundance this week through weather events, mid-term exams, and important visitors. As we leave "basecamp" and take the final climb to the summit (graduation), everything looks quite encouraging. I find strength by looking into the eyes of our young men, particularly our cadet leaders, who thrive in the discipline, order, and safety that is abundant here.
Last Sunday, I was sitting in a hotel conference room filled with school heads from private independent schools throughout Virginia. The speaker led a discussion on the importance of adapting and being change-ready. In my opinion, there wasn't enough talk about what should not change.
Fork Union Military Academy is "counter-cultural" in this regard. We protect our students from the scourge of social media, and the negative impact smartphone screens have on teenage brains. We still teach and believe that there are basic fundamental truths that never change.
For instance, we still teach Matthew 22:36-40 (NIV).
Jesus was asked: "Which is the greatest commandment in the Law?"
To which He replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.'"
Young people still learn best by doing...still want to be around adults who love and inspire them to be smart, fit, and faithful...technology is still not an end in of itself, but a means to an end...a method...not a solution. Young men still want to make and have life-long friends, and want to be around people they trust.
I wish educators would talk less about change, and more about what should remain the same.
But, to get back to why I gave the blog its title: What does a giraffe have to do with Chapel?
Chaplain Benson gave a multi-part series on the life of Joseph. While I will only relate part of the story here, I encourage everyone to reread Genesis 37-50 to refresh your memory.
The Chaplain started by showing the picture of a giraffe, and telling us that giraffes give birth while standing up. The baby giraffe falls 6-8 feet to the ground with hooves and head first. The fall breaks the amniotic sac, cuts the umbilical cord, and instead of the spanking we used to give humans, the fall gets the calf to take its first breaths.
After the calf drops to the ground, the mother will begin to clean it off, and after a few minutes, the giraffe will take its first steps. Sometimes the calf lies still, so the mother giraffe kicks the baby giraffe, sending it airborne and tumbling along the ground. As the baby curls back up, the mother kicks the giraffe until it learns to stand on its own four feet.
Just like giraffes need to learn how to get back on their feet quickly, and not wallow in difficult circumstances, we must consider God's plan. We must make the best of where we are, or miss out on the joy that comes by serving Him completely. We must recognize that our current situation is only a waypoint toward a more important destination.
When Joseph found himself sold into slavery after his brothers abandoned him, then was falsely accused of sexual assault and imprisoned, he kept turning to God...never lost faith...and ended up saving Egypt and his family. Part of God's plan was for Joseph to be in a position to save his father and his brothers...he took a few kicks...but each setback sharpened him like stone sharpens metal, or heat strengthens steel.
Don't be bitter and resentful in your circumstances...but grow.
I trust everyone has been keeping up with all our athletic activities by reading the Blue Devil Report each week, and all our other events by scrolling through our weekly Front and Center. We are in the process of updating our website, which will be refreshed before the end of this school year. We also have Driven and Called, a pastoral counseling newsletter (with 5 volumes so far), and regular communication from our Guidance Department. Parents should also be receiving regular updates from Shannon Higginbotham, our Parent Coordinator.
College acceptances are flowing in...and our annual ring ceremony will be next Friday, 2 February at 1015. Cadets are looking forward to Winter Leave Weekend...and it is hard to believe Spring Break is only a month away.
In my next blog, I will start the countdown to graduation.
Stay safe, and be glad you weren't born a giraffe.
Driven by Purpose. Called to Lead.
Fork Union Strong!
COL Rob Feathers, Director of Guidance
It won't be too long before our cadets are packing up their belongings for yet another trip home. The time between Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks is short...but crucial. On December 8th, our Upper School cadets will be taking their final exam for the second term and the next day will begin their third term course. For many of our cadets the final exam can make the difference between an A and a B...a passing grade or a failing grade. Please encourage your son to stay focused and disciplined during these next two weeks. We will be doing the same on our end.Below is a review of Guidance-sponsored events that took place during the month of November:
- The administration of the SAT on November 4th. The next SAT testing date is December 2nd, and the ACT will be offered again on campus on December 9th.
- The administration of the PSAT 8/9 on November 15th. This testing involved all of our eighth and ninth graders and was done at school expense. The intent in offering this test to our younger students is to prepare them for the SAT, which will most likely be taken by most of these same cadets in subsequent years.
- A student-led panel discussion offered to our 7th graders on the benefits of setting goals. Four of our senior cadet officers (Joshua Henriques, Jonathan Ilori, Will Pessaud, and Alex Thomas) each provided anecdotes from their own lives in emphasizing the importance of setting personal goals. They discussed how goal-setting has benefitted them as leaders at FUMA, helping them to achieve success as cadet officers and as students.
- A seminar for parents on college financial aid. The parent seminar, offered on the morning of departure for Thanksgiving vacation, was led by Ms. Megan Speth, a financial aid counselor at Piedmont Virginia Community College. Ms. Speth's presentation focused primarily on the Free Application for Federal Financial Aid (FAFSA), but she also discussed strategies for seeking out loans, grants, and scholarships. Her take-away message from the presentation was "If you don't ask, it won't be given."
- The administration of the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) on November 30th. This multi-aptitude battery of tests is administered by the United States Military Entrance Processing Command to help predict future academic and occupational success in the military for those who sign up to take this test.
Though we will be in session for only a couple more weeks prior to break, the Guidance Department will be offering a few opportunities for our cadets, beginning with a "College Road Trip" to Hampden-Sydney College on Friday, December 1st. Hampden-Sydney is a liberal arts college for men, located just past Farmville, VA. Founded in 1775, this college is the tenth oldest college in the United States. The Wall Street Journal ranks this school among the top 10 schools for career preparation. Six of our seniors have received acceptance letters from this college so far. Information about Hampden-Sydney can be found at http://www.hsc.edu.
Also scheduled for this month is another "Let's Talk" seminar. During the evening of December 4th, Ms. Rebecca Mayo-Pitts, LCSW, will be presenting a session on "Managing Your Stress" to interested cadets. Ms. Mayo-Pitts has an office in the Fork Union Village and is available to see cadets through private arrangement with families. The placement of this seminar just before final exams is, of course, purposeful.
Finally, we encourage all seniors who have not yet completed the college application process to take time during the upcoming vacation to finish this important paperwork. Christmas vacation also provides our upper classmen some time to visit a college or two. Though colleges and universities might also be on break, chances are that admissions offices might still be open for business.
Being President of the Association for Military Colleges and Schools (AMCSUS), a voluntary job that rotates through its membership, allows me to see the great work being done at senior military colleges (like Virginia Tech and VMI), military junior colleges, and other military college-prep schools. The theme for our annual conference this February will be Wellness and Resilience.
#GotGrit will be printed on all our conference giveaways...things like hats. #GotGrit is fitting, because schools like Fork Union Military Academy offer boys the chance to stand out on their own, and to become men. Not the men portrayed in commercials today who can't figure out how to open refrigerators, or need their wives to explain why they should have accident forgiveness insurance; and certainly not the men shown on the news who disrespect women and sometimes pretend they didn't.
Fork Union offers the chance for boys to become men by observing other men behaving well, and by seeing men and women who are professional in their demeanor and interactions. Is Fork Union perfect? No we are not. Are we distinct from other schools by our example? Yes we are. A few months ago I read about a book written by Julie Lythcott-Haims, a former Dean of freshman at Stanford University. Her book, "How to Raise an Adult" talks about today's parents becoming increasingly involved in their children's lives.
She gave three parenting tips:
Stop saying "we." She recommends that when speaking about children, parents shouldn't include themselves in the child's accomplishment. For instance, "we" are not on the track team, "we're" not applying to college, and "we" aren't going to school.
Stop arguing with the adults in your children's lives. Young people need to learn to advocate for themselves with teachers, coaches, or other school staff. They should have these conversations themselves.
Stop doing your children's homework. The only way young people learn is by doing their work themselves.
These are not my tips, they are hers, but...they help define why schools like Fork Union Military Academy are so successful in building men. These last few weeks of rain and cold have tested the grit, tenacity, and character of our cadets...particularly when combined with mid-term exams, last football games, state cross country meets, and the holiday stresses that are multiplied for an increasing number of young men with blended, separated, and divorced families.
My parents separated late...not something we talk about much anymore since my father passed away 30 years ago...but it complicated the holidays...and added stress to visits...particularly this time of year. If it was hard for me to deal with as an adult, it seems natural that it would be even harder for younger men in similar situations. I see our cadets balance these issues, along with the stresses that come with being a teenager, and find myself admiring their resilience and strength.
In early November an article appeared in the Bleacher Report written by Adam Kramer. I enjoyed reading the article, and used quotes from it in a Sunday Chapel message to cadets. The reporter spent an entire weekend on campus, embedded with our postgraduate football players, and the article starts off with "Inside the [college prep, Christian] military boarding school that transforms boys into men..."
The author observed cadets from Reveille to Taps, and interviewed a few graduates. He speaks of cadets "meticulously making their beds," and "saluting the American flag." Vinnie Testaverde is quoted as saying "It was the single best decision my father has ever made for me. It wasn't just the education from a schooling standpoint, but the education of how to prepare for life."
Eddie George, now a member of our Board of Trustees, is quoted as saying: "This was the cornerstone for where I am today. There is no doubt about it. This was a life-changing moment that evolves as I get older. That is how much Fork Union means to me."
I encourage you to read the entire article, but here is one quote that was particularly poignant. Morgan Moses, who plays for the Washington Redskins said, "It changed my life. The discipline and the structure, things people take for granted, helped me succeed while I was there [at UVA] and after. Fork Union provides something most people don't have, and that is discipline."
Resilience, which many now refer to as grit, is becoming scarcer among young men. At schools like ours, for those who are committed enough to try, cadets build grit in abundance without sacrificing respect, integrity, or faith. Character reveals itself during situations that challenge us and push us to our limits. Not quitting when things get hard takes discipline.
So I encourage all parents to raise adults and not raise children. Fork Union helps boys become men...and has done exactly that for more than a century. We build men who know their calling, and find themselves leading purpose driven lives.
Tomorrow at 1230 begins our first major leave (break) of the school year when the Corps of Cadets leaves campus for ten days of Thanksgiving Leave. At Commandant's Call I will encourage a variety of safe behaviors, including their favorite...when I tell them that when they go out to run while on leave to remember and wear their retroreflective belts...I certainly won't run without mine...
Driven by Purpose. Called to Lead.
Fork Union Strong!
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!
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