Are we near the end of USNA’s “Back To The Future?”

There are a lot of things you learn to love and appreciate during your time as a Naval Academy parents and right there near the top of this list are traditions. Even if they make no sense today, you learn the history behind them and learn to embrace them.

When one of those traditions gets upended, it’s unsettling. Because you’ve learned to expect them, actually count on them, their absence can put your whole world out of kilter. Of course, the COVID pandemic has upended a lot of traditions, but when you have a history as long as the Naval Academies, some of these changes end up being more like coming full circle.

Induction Day 2016. Part of a hallowed tradition and, without question, my worst day as a father.

When the Academy announced that the Brigade would remain on The Yard for Thanksgiving and not return home until the end of the semester, parents (and many of the Mids) were shocked. Rightly so. We have come to expect that even those Mids who aren’t able to see their parents during the Fall semester can count on seeing the family during the holiday. For Plebe Parents, this can be especially meaningful since for most Plebes, it’s the first time they are able to come home since Induction Day.

While it may have come as a shock, it was really USNA retro move, kind of a Back to the Future thing. Tradition once held that Plebes could not get leave until Christmas break, which led to another tradition, the upperclassmen singing “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” after the Plebes took the oath of office.

And in another nod to going back to the future, the hallowed Army-Navy game will be played on the West Point campus when 40 of the last 50 have been played in Philadelphia. Nonetheless, the rivalry was actually born on the grounds of USMA and the first four contests, like many college football rivalries, alternated between the campuses. The game return to campus for two years during World War II, but has otherwise always been played on a much bigger stage.

Yet, we are going Back to the Future – the Mids have been on The Yard, locked down in fact, and not allowed to return home for Thanksgiving. The game, I mean, The Game will be played on the West Point campus. While there’s a certain amount of nostalgia, and there’s frankly nothing new about it (though certainly nothing recent), there remains a sense of disruption. And concern.

The pandemic has almost all of us yearning for some sort of normalcy, for a sign that the simple things we often took for granted, can once again be a part of our lives. As we prepare to thrown 2020 into the trash bin (with gusto), USNA parents look to 2021 with hope, but with some trepidation.

The pandemic that saw the I Ball, spring sports seasons, and Commissioning Week evaporate and cause massive changes in Induction Day and Plebe Summer is still with us and despite news that a vaccine will soon be released, it shows no signs of slowing down. Will USNA’s version of Back to the Future end soon? Will we see the I Ball in 2021? A Ring Dance? A Commissioning Week (including a real Herndon Climb)?

As uncomfortable as it may be, we simply don’t know. When I’ve expressed my disappointment about the loss of all the traditions at the end of the Class of 2020’s time and the beginning of this school year, I have sometimes been labeled a “snowflake” because “that’s not what these warriors signed up for.”

I get it. They aren’t going to USNA or West Point or USAFA to march on parade or attend balls or get their class rings or climb the Herndon Monument. But these traditions are an undeniable part of the experience. Yes, when they all graduate and commission, they will be officers in the world’s greatest military and own a great education. But it’s impossible not to acknowledge that something has been lost. We can only hope the loss is temporary and soon to come to its end.

So as we watched the embers of the dumpster fire that is 2020 fade away, we look to 2021 to start a new chapter rooted in time-honored traditions. Nothing would a stronger signal to me that this torturous version of Back to the Future is over than hearing the Class of 2024 chant “Plebes No More” in the shadow of the Herndon Monument.

Here’s hoping for fair winds and following seas.

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