With the passing of Plebe Parents Weekend, the Class of 2026’s time on the Severn is officially one-third complete. And while the amount of emotional energy expended over those precious few days could easily power the entire Pacific Fleet for years, that chapter has closed and it’s time to move on. As we all know, time and tide wait for no one.
And here’s a news flash for the Class of 2026 – it’s not necessarily going to get easier.
Oof, I heard the thumps all the way from here. I should have warned them to sit down before I wrote that. It’s OK, take a moment to recover before reading on.
Yes, Plebe Summer is a uniquely challenging experience, and these now-Plebes are much different people than the ones who walked through the doors of Bancroft Hall only a couple of months ago. For some, the academic year will be easier, but for others, challenges will remain, just in much different forms than they did during the summer.
These young men and women have been going to classes for a dozen years, so there may be a certain comfort in a return to lectures and homework. However, even most of their peers at civilian colleges will acknowledge that making the adjustment from high school to college coursework isn’t always easy, let alone the sheer volume of work involved. And while many of the Plebes bring to the Academy a track record of high academic achievement, the fact is, the simple math demands that some of them fall toward the bottom of the class.
That’s one of the hardest lessons for many Plebes to learn – failure. If you look over the background that earned them their Naval Academy appointment, it’s filled with superlatives. We often hear that our military academy appointees are “the best of the best.” Few of them have ever really failed at anything significant. Most of them will fail at something during their time at the Naval Academy.
That’s not a bad thing. In fact, it’s all part of the training. These future leaders have to understand failure at two levels. They need to embrace personal failure so they can both understand their limitations (and work on expanding them) and learn from the experience. On the second level, they need to experience failure so as officers, they are better equipped to understand and deal with the instances when those they are charged with leading come up short. It’s tough to watch or hear about your kid failing, but it’s a necessary lesson, especially for the path these Plebes have chosen.
Plebe Summer is intense and exhausting. And like the classes before them, 2026 survived the 6-week ordeal. The next ordeal is exponentially longer and while it may not have quite the physical challenges of Plebe Summer (though there will still be plenty of that), the mental and emotional challenges will increase a great deal.
For one, there’s the numbers game. Yes, the detailers rode the Plebes hard this summer, but they were limited in number. After Hell(o) Night, they find themselves surrounded by literally thousands of people, all of whom are at least a full step ahead of them and demand a level of respect. Again, for young men and women who have earned and been given respect for the last several years, this can be something of a culture shock.
That’s one top of something their civilian college counterparts also adapt to – learning to live with strangers. Some will be sharing a room for the first time and doing it with a person they didn’t meet until Reform. And they’ll be sharing a floor with a couple dozen more complete strangers. Now, they will come to know these people better than people they’ve known for years and make friendships that will last a lifetime, but that’s a process that will take time. Initially, it is a stressor.
Time is also not on their side. They are purposefully given too much to handle, which is another lesson in leadership. Yes, these overachievers have balanced challenging schedules before arriving in Annapolis, but not at this level. A crushing academic load and regular military obligations are enough to challenge most anyone. But when you layer in all the “Plebe stuff” like memorizing names and jobs, room inspections, chow calls, and 100 other little things (Wanna sleep in on Saturday? That’s too bad because the football game is mandatory!), the greatest enemies become time and keeping your head on straight.
And the parents, too, will be learning a new way of life. Sure, interaction during Plebe Summer was severely limited but most Plebes will not have the time to send a daily text message, let alone FaceTime with their parents. That exacerbates the empty feeling of having your kid move out of the house but it’s also training because, yes, the parents are also being trained by the USNA experience. They’re learning what it’s like to be the parent not of a college graduate but of a military officer, who will not often be available or even to be reached for long and unexpected stretches of time. Right now, we know they are on the academy campus, but once they commission, there will be many times we won’t know where they are, who they are with, what they are doing, or when we hear from them again.
So Plebe Parents should savor the PPW memories while the rest of the parents prepare to engage in the routine. Like the tide, the ceaseless rhythm of the Academy rolls on.