While uncertainty is usually the rule of the day when it comes to the Naval Academy, there are a few things you can depend on, one of them being your time there will be an emotional roller coaster. I was recently reminded of that, even though I no longer have a Mid on The Yard.
First came news that the Plebes will be “shotgunned” at the end of the year, removed from their current companies and scatter amongst the other 29 where they will have to establish new friendships and learn new company-specific rituals. This blog post at USNA MidMoms and More covers the whole thing pretty thoroughly, so I won’t rehash it here.
But it brought back memories from the end of my son’s Plebe year, when we learned his class would be scrambled – at least that’s the term we were given, something similar to shotgunning, where all the Plebes in a particular company would all move to another company. In our Mid’s case, he and all the Plebes from 25th Company moved to the Dirty 30.
While this created no shortage of angst – after all, the Plebes had spent an entire year trying to get used to the USNA routine and rhythm, including that of their particular company. As a parent, one of the cool things about having a 25th Company Bearshark was that made it easier to spot them during a televised home football game. One of them dressed in the bear costume and protected the rubber shark, which made for great TV footage. But being in 30th company meant creating the “tunnel” for the football players to run through before games, which meant actually being on the field just before the Army-Navy game. Bottom line, each company does something pretty cool.
So I empathized with the current Plebe families, but am confident the stress will be short-lived.
But the N*avy roller coaster also found me wrestling with words, prompted by the news that the Class of 2021 would have a near-normal Commissioning Week with in-person graduation and COVID-altered CW activities. My first reaction was, “Thank God, that’s awesome!” I was elated.
As the news sunk in, I noted that other 2020 parents were articulating my feelings on Facebook and that led to the wrestling match. Yes, I was happy, but I also wrestled with whether I was also feeling jealousy or envy. As a writer, words matter and I went back and forth on it. I landed on envy, because jealousy carries with it a bit of animosity, which is why Shakespeare created the metaphorical Green-Eyed Monster.
I carry no animosity, but would I would be lying to myself if I said I wasn’t carrying a good bit of envy. Yes, I believe USNA leadership did the best it could with the Class of 2020 graduation and commissioning. They created an event that allowed a dignified capstone while recognizing the stark realities of the COVID-19 pandemic.
That being said, while some of us tried to capture a little bit of Commissioning Week magic, we knew in our hearts it wasn’t quite what we had been planning for over the previous four years. To be clear, this envy had nothing to do with the feelings of our now-Ensign. He’s put that all behind him, as I suspect most 2020 grads have, and is all about his life as a Navy officer.
This envy is very selfish and I’m comforted to know that other parents feel it as well. Because the USNA journey is a family affair. We all ride the four-year roller coaster together, experiencing both our individual and collective ups and downs. We often did this virtually. And Commissioning Week 2020 was the one time we expected to be able to do it collectively.
The news that the Class of 2021 would be able to do what we never were able to do brought that all back. It reminded us of what we lost.
There’s no reason the Class of 2021 families shouldn’t be ecstatic about this news. There’s no reason they shouldn’t gush about their plans, ask questions about caterers and places to stay, discuss what they are going to wear to a special event, or anxiously wonder about the weather forecast for the Big Day. That’s all part of the excitement.
Yet, I would make one request of those families – there’s no need to give the Class of 2020 a second thought during Commissioning Week. After all, this is your time. But please, do not take one moment of this for granted. We’ve learned that lesson the hard way.