Unsolicited advice for the USNA Class of 2025

The parents of some members of the USNA Class of 2025 are making themselves known on some of the Academy-related Facebook pages. Combined with the announcement that there will be a modified, in-person commissioning for the Class of 2021, we have clear signs we are emerging from the cloud of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ceaseless cycle of the Naval Academy continues.

While I’ll jump in on some of the Facebook questions, I’ll offer a small batch of totally unsolicited advice, too.

⚓ Repeat after me, “Your experience is the right experience.” There is no one-size-fits-all version of the USNA experience, so your journey will be unique. Don’t let anyone tell you any different. (Corollary – none of us have an officer who spent four years at the Academy in the COVID era, so make sure you take all advice through that lens)

⚓ Whether your Plebe communicates regularly or goes radio silent (see above), they will not have all the answers. Frankly, sometimes, there will be no answers. Why? Repeat after me, “Because … Navy.”

⚓ I know I Day 2021 will not resemble the one our family endured in 2016, but I would encourage you to read this piece I did for the the Class of 2022. Likewise, here’s how our family survived Plebe Summer. You may find those helpful, but again, your experience will be unique.

⚓ You will likely begin to accumulate a lot of Navy gear – clothes, jackets, knick-knacks, wall hangings, bumper stickers, etc. If any of your friends tell you that you have enough (or too much) Navy gear, get new friends. You don’t need that kind of negativity in your life.

Kristin’s masterpiece is in our dining room.

⚓ With that in mind, I would like to introduce you to Kristin Cronic, the brains and talent behind Easel On Stribling, whose work will be (or soon should be) adorning your walls. If you’re not open to artwork, no worries. There are note cards, journals, chocolates, notebooks, coffee mugs, and more in her gift shop.

⚓ When you start thinking about planning a trip to Annapolis or a family vacation, remember the Yiddish proverb, “Men plan, God laughs.” Seriously.

⚓ If you have room on your bookshelf, consider adding these tomes. (If you don’t have room, consider adding a bookshelf, maybe something with a Navy logo):

  • Chester Midshipmouse (and the sequel, The Second Third): As a writer, I am fascinated that Susan Weisberg managed to weave a true-to-life account of life as a Plebe through the eyes of a simple rodent. The first book details Chester’s Plebe Summer experience and the next his Plebe Year. They are both amazing and I pay them the highest compliment as a writer – I wish I were talented and creative enough to write either one of them, let alone both.
  • A USNA Mom’s Journal: Plebe Summer through Commissioning and Beyond! What You Need to Know: Author AN Shine covers all the bases. Her description says it all: “I have included everything that we earned from our journey over seven years and two Midshipmen at the Naval Academy, plus include some stories about my dad (USNA’59). From appointment through Commissioning and beyond, there are many useful tips, up-to-date information and advice to help you navigate the unique four-year journey that is USNA.” Side note – AN has a great Etsy shop full of charms, coasters, and other cool N*-related items.
  • Hey look, I wrote a book, too! Unlike Susan’s book, this is not an enchanting narrative and unlike AN’s book it is not brimming with practical guidance. Instead, mine is a collection of fun, facts, and figures about the Naval Academy. You’ll learn a few good Navy-related jokes (many at West Point’s expense, of course) and be able to dispense trivia during any conversation.
  • The Herndon Climb: It’s no secret that this is one of my favorite USNA traditions. This book tells the whole story and is written not just by a retired Naval officer, but one of my son’s sprint football coaches.

⚓ As a corollary to the description of my book, all conversations will eventually turn to the Academy. That is your sworn duty as a Naval Academy parent.

⚓ Go Navy! Beat Army! is more than a saying, it’s a way of life.

⚓ Yes, Chair Force is the proper way to reference the baby of the academies.

⚓ You will hear USNA referred to as N*ot College. Because … it’s not college. Your friends may have kids in college. They will not understand your experience. Yes, your Plebe will be getting a college education and leave with a college degree. But are they really in college? N*ot really.

⚓ Go to the Army-Navy game. Go to the Herndon Climb. Visit Annapolis as often as you can. Drink in every drop of the experience. The time will fly by, especially after Plebe Year.

⚓ I did a podcast with my son after his Plebe Year that might help. Like most things I do, there’s an error in it, in this case a big one, I said Plebe Summer is 9 weeks. Deep breath, it’s not. Proof that even Hemingway needed an editor.

⚓ If you want to hear a mix of the story of my son’s Plebe Year and why the Herndon Climb is among my favorite USNA traditions, this podcast might be worth your listen (plus, I really like the music, too):

⚓ As a compulsive chronicler, I found myself collecting screenshots of my son’s Snapchat and Instagram, plus photos found during Waldo hunting. I used them to fashion a picture book about Plebe Year. Even today, I find myself leafing through it wondering two things: 1) Did that year really happen? and 2) I can’t believe we survived that. Anyway, if you think you might want to do something similar, start collecting stuff now. Once I Day happens, the pace could have your head spinning. I can’t imagine trying to do that project retroactively.

⚓ If you haven’t already, you will learn a whole knew vocabulary. BZ = Bravo Zulu. That’s a good thing. “Fair Winds and Following Seas” is a great way to send somebody off. As for TAD, leave, liberty, Alpha inspections, PRT … you’ll pick them up over time.

⚓ It’s something of a cliche, but you’ve just joined a family. Like all families, there are some folks you may not see eye-to-eye with, but rest assured, they all have your back. When we say #YourMidIsMyMid, we mean it. And that goes for after they are no longer Mids.

⚓ Relax. Hard as it is to believe, literally tens of thousands of young men and women have gone through this experience. Enjoy the ride.

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