October 18, 2011
What’s a Candidate Weekend Visit?
Please accept my personal invitation to spend a weekend visiting the U. S. Naval Academy and historic Annapolis. This visit program is offered only to a select group of candidates.”
One day, you get home from school, rush to the mailbox to see if your USNA acceptance letter is there–and find this instead. You are fully qualified to be a Midshipman, just waiting to see if you’re competitive among the pool of applicants. This should be your acceptance, but instead is an offer to spend a weekend as a Mid–two days with a Plebe, observing academic classes, physical exercise, and all daily activities. Can you survive Calculus and Chemistry (the Plebe killer)? Are Mids friendly? Will they give you the low-down on Academy life?. Mentally, you’re already at USNA. You’ve committed yourself to four years, and then five more years serving your country. Why do you need this?
When you look into it more, you realize it’s a good idea–for you and them. You get to find out first hand if the Mid life is right for you, and they get the same. With the price of educating a Midshipman approaching a quarter million dollars, they don’t want to make mistakes.
It’s departure day, and you’re ready, bags packed, ticket in hand. You’ll miss three days of school right before January finals, but the Academy doesn’t look at senior grades (although several of your alternative choices do), so you’re not worried. As usual, your Dad accompanies you. Yes, you could travel alone, but you don’t want to.
When you arrive at the Academy, you show the guard your valid picture ID and the letter accepting you for the Candidate Weekend. There’s a general meeting at 9:15 at Chauvenet Hall, Room 216, an introduction to parents and visitors. Some of the candidates have already received appointments, and take part in the Weekend to confirm their choice. Despite yourself, you are jealous—what do they have that garnered an early appointment? But most attendees seem just like you—trying one more time to convince the Academy they would make a good Mid.
You meet your Plebe guide—Ruth. All weekend, pre-Plebes go by the nom de plume ‘Drag’ because they ‘drag’ along behind their Mid. You like Ruth right away—she’s affable, intelligent, and doesn’t treat you like you’re a burden. Classes turn out to be what you hoped—small, personal, with friendly students who buckle down ready to work when the Professor begins his lecture. No fooling around, which makes it fun. You end up in a Calculus class with your friend Jason from high school—now a Plebe. He begs for help with a tricky vector concept (you are so thankful you are taking Calculus this year).
Meals turn out to be huge—so much food! And everyone eats a lot, much more than your customary allotment. Friday evening involves a mix of fun and studying. You observe the Honor Concept in action: Some students must take an online quiz. Although a number of them have finished, they don’t advise the others, nor do they share answers. They won’t even admit whether the quiz is easy or difficult! The Honor Concept rules at the USNA.
You sleep on a cot by a drafty Bancroft Hall window. You’d prefer the hallway floor, but that’s not an option. Anyway, comfort never was the goal of this visit. When your roommates rise at 5:30 am for a crew workout, you’re ready. Annapolis in winter can’t be confused with California, but you knew that. No matter how many layers you wear, you’re still cold. The team encourages you to do crew when appointed—but you think Martial Arts sounds better (it practices inside, and not at 5:30 in the morning!). Or basketball.
As the two days progress, your Plebe and her friends share opinions about the Academy openly and honestly. They tell you about daily life, the traumas of Plebe summer, classes, male vs. female. Some worry about passing their PRT (Physical Readiness Test), and a few worry about flunking. While everyone intellectually can succeed, some aren’t used to working so hard academically, nor the top-notch level of competition faced at the Academy. Every student here ranked high in their graduating class, backed by an intimidating resume of well-rounded scholastics, sports, and extra-curricular activities. Here they rank average—because everyone excels. And nothing can prepare them for the shortage of study time. Between physical demands and military requirements, evening study hours quickly dissipate. Nevertheless, every student feels the weight of succeeding. USNA models a design-build architecture firm—professors train you well because their boss hires you upon graduation, and the skills you get become the same ones that will solve world problems for as long as you serve in the Armed Forces.
By the time you leave, you have bonded with girls your intellectual and physical counterpart, reinforcing the veracity of this biggest of all decisions. They like you—their last Drag didn’t stay with them (although Drags must follow their Plebe everywhere s/he goes, no one enforces the rule—once again, the Honor Concept. But the Plebe does write up a FitRep on your two days at USNA). Your positive attitude and eagerness to participate in everything have made your two days an event for everyone.
When it’s over, you meet up with your dad, not quite the person he left two days ago. Mostly the same, but a tiny bit more mature, a touch wiser, and clearer than ever on what the carrot at the end of the high school stick should be. You leave knowing that attending any other school will be settling for second best. There can be no place like the United States Naval Academy.
When you return home, the first thing you do is check the CIS. No change.
Second, you IM your friends about your great weekend.
Then, you wait…
–From Building a Midshipman
Jacqui Murray is the author of Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy midshipman. She is webmaster for five blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, an ISTE article reviewer, a weekly contributor to Write Anything and mother of a Naval Officer and an Army grunt. Currently, she’s working on a techno-thriller that should be ready this summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.