Before my son entered the United States Naval Academy, Herndon was one of the faceless suburbs in the DC beltway. Once plunged into Plebe Summer, it took on a whole new meaning and became our family’s focal point.
For those uninitiated in USNA tradition, the Herndon monument sits near the Academy’s famous chapel, an obelisk that looks like someone built a miniature replica of the Washington Monument and dropped it on the chapel’s lawn.
And by the time Plebes start to feel the weight of The Dark Ages, it becomes a goal. The goal. That’s because of the tradition known as The Herndon Climb (read all about the details on the Academy website) where a dixie cup Plebe cover is put atop of the greased monument and the Plebes have to knock it off and replace it with an upperclassmen cover. Then – and only then – is Plebe Year over. Here’s what it kinda looks like:
Now, if your kid is a Plebe, I have only one piece of advice: Be there. BE. THERE. Before the Class of 2020 had their moment, I watched countless videos, read many articles, looked at many pictures … but once they accomplished their task, I was overcome with emotion. You really need to be there.
Getting through Plebe Year is such a grind – for the Plebe and for the family. And it’s a marathon, not a sprint, despite the pace. As a family, we struggled through Plebe Summer. A few football games helped us through the first semester, but The Dark Ages challenged us and our Plebe. Yes, we looked forward to his Spring Break, but it was just that – a break. For us, it was all about Herndon – seeing that cover going up and hearing the Class of 2020 chant “Plebes No More!”
And the reality exceeded the expectation. I never saw my Mid during the climb. But I knew he was in the scrum. And I knew how much it meant to him … and his classmates. I understood the emotional roller coaster they all endured. And as the mass of Mids swell up the monument, only to fall down, reassemble and climb back up the monument, my heart raced. When that cover finally found its resting spot at the top of the monument, I exhaled, wiped the tears from my eyes and shouted along with the rest of the crowd.
Hearing them shout “Plebes No More,” then, in a moment, joining together to sing “Blue & Gold” kept the tears flowing. It was that emotional.
If you have a Plebe in the class of 2021 – be there! And if you don’t, and want to see an exciting piece of USNA tradition – be there!
This year’s Herndon Climb is scheduled for May 21, starting at 1:30 p.m.
As we begin the countdown, here are few cool items.
- The company that “wins” Sea Trials (which requires its own blog post, but we’ll get to that later) claim the title of “Iron Company” which earns it the right to lead the class to the monument for the climb. Here’s quick glimpse of what Sea Trials is all about:
- Plebes remove their shoes prior to the climb. This tradition has led to thousands of these athletic shoes being donated to various charities through the Midshipman Action Group. Pretty cool!
- I did a podcast based on recommendations from Class of 2020 Plebes to get the families hyped for the event. You can listen to it here:
- Hope you make it to this year’s Climb. You won’t regret it!