Cadets at The Citadel don’t show much emotion. There are two times in the last four years that I’ve seen my son and his classmates show shear joy, Recognition Day and Ring Weekend.
Recognition Day is the biggest day in the life of a first year cadet, or Knob as they are called. This day is the official end of the Fourth Class System. They cease being Knobs and are full members of the Corps of Cadets. The freshmen are recognized by the upperclassmen, being called by their first names for the first time since they arrived at The Citadel. They no longer have to address the upperclassmen as Mr. or Ms. (although this can take some getting used to.)
On the designated morning, the first year cadets and the upperclassmen get up early and do a series of tough physical training exercises. The morning ends with each company in the barracks. The Knobs do a series of push ups then crawl to the company Guidon and repeat the cadet prayer together. They then stand together and hear the announcement over the loud speakers that ends with “The Fourth Class System is no longer in effect.”
I’m told the emotions run very high and many cadets have tears of joy, relief and pride streaming down their faces. After a BBQ lunch in the barracks, they get ready for their march to Marion Square, the site of the original building of The Citadel to repeat the Cadet Oath.
My son’s Knob year my daughter and I went to Charleston to watch the march into Marion Square. We arrived on campus just in time to peer through the sally port, the gateway entrance in to the barracks, to hear the announcement. Some parents and family members had been there all morning watching from a distance. As we got ready to leave for Marion Square, we caught a glimpse of Nelson and other Bravo Company cadets practicing with the Guidon. As one of the new company clerks he would carry the Guidon in front of the company during parades.
He actually had a minute to run out and take photos with us, which we were extremely surprised (and happy) about since we were told that the cadets would have little if any time with their family this day. A huge grin across his face.
Three years later I saw that joy in his face again as he and the other senior cadets received their rings. Unlike other colleges, cadets at The Citadel earn the right to wear the ring. They must meet the strict guidelines for grades, discipline, etc. before they can get their ring. To understand the significance of the ring you really need to spend time with the cadets. You can get a glimpse of the significance of the Band of Gold to the graduates by reading Pat Conroy’s commencement address from 2001. I can’t read this speech without tearing up.
Just a few months ago, we prepared to travel to Charleston to watch as our cadet and his classmates received their rings on a Friday afternoon. Since my husband, Stanley, is a photographer, Nelson asked if he’d take photos as the cadets ran back into the barracks with their rings to toast each other in front of the company letter. Stanley was given permission to be in the Battalion from the 1St Battalion TAC officer, the staff person who oversees the each company and the barracks. My daughter and I watched from the side gates.
Up until a few years ago, the cadets received their rings in the Summerall Chapel. The shear number of people attending led the ceremony to be moved to the McAlister Field House. Once the cadets get their rings and are dismissed, they run out of the field house, across the parade field to the Chapel, then back to their Battalion to toast each other. They then emerge from the Battalion grinning ear to ear with their right hand held to display their new class ring. It is the first time I’d really seen so many cadets exude shear joy. That joy lasted throughout the weekend.
One last tradition around Parents/Ring Weekend is the Ring Ceremony that takes place Friday evening. The cadets escort their mother and a date or other family member through a giant replica of the Ring and through the Junior Sword Arch as the name of the cadet and the people being escort are announced. As a Mom, it was one of those moments where I was grinning ear to ear, very proud of my son and his accomplishments.
That evening I was brought back memories for me of an evening thirty years before at my Junior Ring Dance. I was escorted by my father down the grand staircase of the Jefferson Hotel as the Class of 1981 of Westhampton College of the University of Richmond was presented. My mother died when I was pregnant with Nelson and my father died a few years later. They would have been so proud of their grandson. In a very real way, I felt that I represented our whole family that evening last fall.
It’s so fun to look through the photos from that weekend. The shear joy of the cadets, their families and friends come shining through. One photo struck me as I reviewed the scores Stanley had taken. After they toasted each other and threw the glasses at the company letter and then took a photo in front of the Bravo Company letter, the seniors of Bravo Company gathered in a tight circle with their right hands in front of them, bowed their heads and repeated the cadet prayer, like they had done three years before on Recognition Day.
Previous entries by Dorie Griggs:
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