Monday, October 1, 2012
Last week-end I attended my 50th Class Reunion in Annapolis: four days of party, drink, dinner-dance, tailgate, football and reminiscing. Sea stories flowed, each one more outlandish than the prior one, as we talked about pranks, breaking the rules and about how, compared to now, the Academy used to be.LARGER/YOUNGER: In the five decades since I was there, the town has doubled in size from a population of 20,000 to 40,000 (not counting the Midshipmen). Annapolis has developed outward causing urban-like traffic jams, especially on week-ends. The Academy has grown much larger due to landfills in the Severn River and the addition of numerous academic buildings and athletic facilities. The Brigade is also larger; there are now approximately 4200 midshipmen compared to 3400 fifty years ago. It has a lower dropout rate now (of the 1250 who enter about 80% graduate, whereas in 1958 only about 67% of the 1200 entering graduated.) Today’s class is somewhat younger. In 1962, about 75% of those entering were more than one year removed from high school, most having spent 1-3 years in the fleet, prep school or college before admittance.
DIVERSITY: Over the years, the most significant change has been the presence of Midshipwomen. First admitted in 1976 (the class of 1980), women and now account for about 17% of all Annapolis students. Incidentally, the first pregnant midshipwoman graduated in 2009. This is strictly prohibited, but, she received a waiver. Midshipmen are still not allowed to marry until graduation. The student body of today is far more diverse than in earlier days, with approximately one-third being minorities. In the class of 1962, there were but two African American students in a class of 784.
CALENDAR/CURRICULUM: Plebe summer still starts around July 1st but only lasts until mid-August when the upperclassmen return and the academic year begins. Formerly, this was not until after Labor Day. Hence, the historical “June Week” no longer exists. It is now called Graduation Week since graduation now takes place in May. Academics have changed too. Fifty years ago all Midshipmen studied the exact same curriculum, with the exception of individual choices of a foreign language, and all graduated with a B.S. degree in Naval Science. The Academy of today still has a required core curriculum, but it allows qualified students (especially those who have already attended some college) to exempt out of certain courses, and it now offers majors in 23 different courses of study. In 1963 it changed from a 4.0 numerical grading system to letter grading, and a passing grade changed from the cherished minimum of 2.5 to 2.0.
DAILY ROUTINE – THEN: In the “old” days we lived by the bell. We mustered in formations with attendance being taken and awaited the familiar sound: the 0630 reveille bell, the 0700 breakfast formation bell, the 0800 muster for classes bell, the noon formation for lunch bell, the 1315 muster for afternoon classes bell, the 1830 dinner formation bell and the 2230 bell for “taps. We marched in units to all meals, classes and to chapel on Sunday. Anyone who was late, talked or turned his head while marching, or anyone whose light was on after taps, received demerits. And demerits were not pleasant. Serious Class A offenses, such as for skipping a class or being more than 30 minutes late returning from liberty, required lengthy restrictions and other punishment, and if those restrictions extended over vacations (Christmas), too bad, you didn’t go home.
DAILY ROUTINE – NOW: Midshipmen today still muster in formation and march to all meals but may straggle individually to classes and to chapel; they are allowed to talk to one another along the way. Mandatory attendance at chapel was terminated 1972. Taps has been extended to midnight. Plebes are now allowed liberty outside the gate from 1200 to midnight on Saturday. (Saturday visits to town used to be from 1300 to 1830) Unlike before, juniors and seniors can wear civilian clothes into town on week-ends. Television is allowed in rooms now for use during non-study hours. In the past, even having one was a serious offense. All students now are issued a computer and can communicate with parents and friends by e-mail. In the old days it was strictly by snail mail. And cars! In those bygone years, first classmen (Seniors) could have a car off-campus only during the final six weeks of senior year. Any other Midshipman having a car at any time (and was caught) was guilty of a Class A offense. Today, Seniors may have a car all year and even park it on the USNA campus. Juniors are also allowed cars, but must park off campus.
NAVAL ACADEMY EXPERIENCE TODAY: For the right type of person, a Naval Academy experience is not a bad deal: it provides free tuition, lodging and a stipend of $929 per month. In the first year, these funds include only $100 in spending money, after deductions of expenses for uniforms, laundry, haircuts, meals, etc. Stipends increase modestly each year thereafter. (Monetary compensation used to be about $220 per month with only $60 in spending money) In return for all of this, Annapolis requires a serious commitment: a minimum of five years active duty after graduation (four years way back when). Today, approximately 25% of the class chooses the Marine Corps and 25% aviation, both percentages being about double those of yesteryear. For pilots, the commitment is considerably longer: after receiving his wings, a pilot must remain in the Navy for a minimum of eight years, which amounts to an average total of about 9 ½ years. A flyer’s obligation fifty years ago was 3 ½ years following the receipt of his wings, although the war in Vietnam extended the active duty of the class of 1962 pilots by one year.
AFTER GRADUATION: For good or for bad an Academy graduate knows a job awaits the day after graduation, something many college graduates of today are not assured of. For those who elect flight training, the starting pay is about $60,00O, straight lining up to about $90,000 in four and a half years. These figures amount to no less than eleven times the salaries earned five decades ago. And even though some of us old grads joke about how much easier it is today, I’d say they deserve it.
And the great thing about old grads getting together after 50 years, whether we were career navy or resigned as soon as possible, we still remember those four years we spent together and will never forget them.
Thank you for stopping by.