Annapolis, MD: One summer during my freshman year, my family and I were passing through Annapolis, Maryland and my dad thought it would be neat to visit the United States Naval Academy. I really wasn't expecting anything and my mother wasn't too keen on the idea. Nevertheless, we took a tour of the 338-acre campus and witnessed one of their renowned noontime formations. I was speechless over the sense of self-confidence, self-worth, and pride displayed by midshipmen, which was also evident in the immaculate campus. The Naval Academy seemed like an interesting place, so I wanted to learn more. In the past few years I have talked with midshipmen and faculty to gain a better understanding of Academy life and opportunities available at graduation.
The United States Naval Academy was founded in 1845 by the Secretary of the Navy, George Bancroft. The purpose of the Naval Academy is to "develop midshipmen morally, mentally, and physically and to imbue them with the highest ideals of duty, honor, and loyalty ..." They accomplish this in four years of rigorous academics and athletics.
Freshman (fourth class or Plebes) are the low men and women on the totem pole. This year starts in the summer with seven weeks of physical training, overviews of academics, and recitations of facts. They are completely immersed in the military lifestyle which enables them to function when the other classes return. Every alumni and midshipmen says that Plebe summer is the most rigorous, shocking, and memorable experience. It is designed to create class unity through interdependence. The Naval Academy brings in the best and the brightest who are accustomed to being or functioning on an individual basis, but this simply won't work at the academy.
There are thirty-two companies composed of a cross-section of the classes. A normal day starts bright and early at 5:30 a.m. During the year the military training is less demanding while the academics emphasizes engineering.
The common perception is that if you attend the Naval Academy, there are no privileges or social functions. The major holidays are allowed as vacation days and a certain number of weekends are included as well, which increase with seniority. Another significant perk is a free education, but you owe the Navy six years afterwards. This commitment scares many perspective candidates, however, they fail to realize it's six years of a secure job that trains you for future positions in life. You also receive close to $100 as a plebe which increases to $400 as a senior. The Naval Academy's football games are a major source of entertainment and tradition that offer an outlet for midshipmen. There are dances and other social events as well.
Career-wise the naval academy offers stable employment in a variety of fields. The choices range all the way from special warfare (SEAL) to Naval Aviation. Selection is based on academic standings, physical qualifications, and which vacancies need to be filled or slots are available.
The United States Naval Academy is not for everyone. It is for those who thrive in a structured and disciplined environment. When choosing applicants they not only look at the candidate's criteria, but also their motivation. The academy used to have close to 500 Plebes drop out, one-third of the class, which is now down to less than 200. It's very important that the midshipmen are attending for the right reasons, not simply to please their parents. The graduates of the Naval Academy leave with an unmatched sense of accomplishment and pride in themselves, their class, and their academy. f
Reviewed in 1996
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.