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How to Succeed at The Citadel (and in life)

The Citadel

This past weekend Naval Admiral William H. McRaven gave a very moving commencement address for his alma mater, University of Texas-Austin. I encourage you to read or listen to the entire speech. He uses stories from his Navy Seal training to underscore his message. His advice applies to everyone, not just members of the military.

While I am not as articulate as the Admiral, I am going to take his ten points and apply them to life as a cadet at The Citadel as best as I can. If you are a cadet or alum reading this, let me be clear. I did not go through the fourth class system and can never really know what your experience was like.

After six years of volunteering to support parents and their cadets and after listening to alumni, I have accumulated some observations about the cadets who succeed at The Citadel and now wear the ring.

I do encourage you to read or listen to Admiral McRaven’s full speech.

He summed up the ten points he made in his speech as follows:

Start each day with a task completed.

Find someone to help you through life.

Respect everyone.

Know that life is not fair and that you will fail often, but if you take some risks, step up when the times are toughest, face down the bullies, lift up the downtrodden and never, ever give up

To paraphrase the Admiral and put the challenges in perspective for a knob, I’ve added a few tips below.

If you want to wear the ring:

Start each day with a task completed

Adm. McRaven talked about making their bed each morning for inspection. Knobs at The Citadel tend to make their beds then sleep on top of them since it takes so long to make the bed properly. Try to come up with one task you do each day to help you feel you have accomplished something that day.

Find someone to help you through life

Knob year, like life in general, is much easier if you develop friendships with your peers. All the cliché sayings fit knob year, “No man is an island,” comes to mind. The sooner you begin to work with your fellow knobs, the better.

Respect everyone

Knobs are thrown together with a wide variety of people. For many it is the first time to leave their hometown. Your classmates will be very diverse. You each bring something to the table that will help the class. Look for what gift your fellow knob brings to the table.

Respecting everyone may be hard the first year, still practice respect each day. You will see examples of good leadership and poor leadership. You are in a college. The cadre are college students and learning too. At least respect that they went through knob year and were selected to be your leaders.

Know that life is not fair

This is a tough lesson for many the first year. No matter how shiny your brass is, or how well you shine your shoes, or how great your grades are, or how well you clean your room, you will not receive praise from the upperclass cadets. Find the inner strength to say to yourself, “I know I’ve done the best I can do.” and move forward. Your “Sugar Cookie” moment may come during inspection or after an event. Keep moving forward.

You will fail often

Knob year you cannot do anything right. You will be yelled at, you will miss a few goals either given to you or ones you set for yourself. You will be disappointed and feel discouraged. Keep going. You are stronger than you think you are.

Take some risks

This is a tough one to follow the first year when most knobs want to blend in. Taking risks can be as simple as offering support to a fellow knob, or as bold as volunteering for a duty you are not sure you can handle.

Step up when times are toughest

You will be pushed physically and mentally. These times will make you stronger if you let them. You will feel like quitting, everyone does. Remember why you selected this type of school. Pull on your inner strength to get you through.

Face down the bullies

You will feel like you are dealing with bullies each day. Unlike sharks you shouldn’t punch the in the bully in the snout, but you should find a way to deal with them that maintains your integrity and shows your strength.

Lift up the downtrodden

All knobs feel like the downtrodden at some point. Build each other up. You’ll have enough people yelling at you. One day you’ll be feeling OK but a classmate may not. Soon the roles will reverse. Be there for each other. I don’t recommend breaking out in song in the middle of a difficult task, but who knows, maybe the cadre will laugh.

Never give up

Follow the advice above when you are struggling. Pull on the strength of your classmates, close friends and family. Push through when you feel like quitting.

Put your best effort forward, even after disappointments. Hold your head up high. In four short years you will wear the ring.

I invite graduates of The Citadel to add your lessons in the comments section below.


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