Citadel Success Institute: The beginning of the journey

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Citadel Success Institute students (Class of 2019) are led around campus by their cadet instructors. photo by Stacy Carter

Today some members of the Class of 2020 at The Citadel begin their journey at The Citadel Success Institute. It is an a time of mixed emotions for many parents. Although my son did not attend CSI before knob year, I can share a few insights I’ve learned from talking with families who did have a cadet attend.

The Citadel experience is different from other colleges in many ways. The biggest difference is that the cadets learn to take control and ownership of their success and failures. For parents this means learning to let go of control and movement to an advisory role.

Specifically for parents of CSI students that means when your son or daughter learns something about they way their cadet mentors do something, that will take priority over anything you hear from other parents or cadets. While many things at The Citadel are uniform by design there are small ways the cadets will learn to put their own unique mark on their time at the school. It can be how they do their cleaning and polishing to how they organize their time and what activities they decide to take part in.

Some parents handle the transition better than others. Gone are the days of checking homework and looking at their grades each week. You will not be able to see grades until mid-terms then again at the end of the semester, if your student has shared their password with you. (That is an individual family discussion. My opinion, if you are paying the bills your student should give you access.) You’ll have to rely on your student to let you know how you are doing in their academics, and everything else for that matter once they are at The Citadel. Most likely you will not know or meet their professors for a while if at all.

Parents of CSI parents as your student tells you what they have learned, and what they prefer to do to prepare for knob year, follow their lead.

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Citadel Success Institute students (Class of 2019) cross the parade field. photo by Stacy Carter

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Uniformity, Lists, and Letting Go

Knobs line up

One week from now some members of The Citadel Class of 2020 will be on campus for Citadel Success Institute (CSI). That means across the country and beyond families are busy getting the necessary items and preparing to say good-bye. The parents of athletes who report July 26 and the parents of the cadets reporting August 13 have a bit more time, but they too are spending their time pouring over the Success Packet list and the Citadel Family Association’s “Nice to Have List.”

Military schools have a tradition of making sure everyone looks the same. Uniformity and not  standing out is stressed. Because of this emphasis the families readying their student to report get a bit anxious. Everyone wants to make sure their student has what they need.

What I’ve come to realize though is while you do have lists of things you need to have and lists of things that are nice to have, the cadets still manage to carve out their own way of doing something. For instance, they all need flat white sheets to go on their twin sized bunks, but some cadets will decide they like to have a little extra fabric to tuck under and will want extra long sheets, others do not want the extra fabric. Some cadets use T-pins to secure their sheets to the bunks, others like the elastic straps made for this purpose.

Since the Class of 2020 has not started the year yet, the parents and their students are left with the official list and the Nice to Have list and must make decisions about what to bring. The knobs will develop their own preferences as the year goes on. Parents will slowly learn that no matter what they send, their son or daughter will still find something else they want or decide they do not need what was packed. This is all part of the 4th Class system, maybe not in a formal way, but finding their own way on a very regimented path is a by product of the 4th Class System. (see the PowerPoint on 4C Learning Outcomes)

There are rules for everything, but the cadets still find a way to be their own individual. Some will make their mark in Physical Training (PT). Others will stand out in the classroom, or athletics, or clubs. Some knobs will strive to be a “ghost.” They will do what is expected, but not do anything to bring attention to themselves. Others decide they want to stand out in their field of endeavor. For instance, if they are good at physical training they will do things that may mean extra push ups as a result. The person who is good at PT doesn’t mind extra exercise.

For the non-military person, like I am, this all seems pretty strange. That is alright, we non-grad/non-military parents aren’t the cadets and don’t have to understand it. As parents we are just supposed to be supportive. As I mentioned in a previous post being supportive in this context is helping them with the things they need to report, then encouraging them throughout the year.

I tell new parents each year not to stress about the lists of items, just do their best to get what is listed. Each year the parents worry and obsess over plastic bins, underwear sheets and shoe polish, then soon learn what size bin was sent, or type of sheet really doesn’t matter. In a way I believe parents need the lists to obsess over to distract themselves from the fact their child is going off not only to college but to a military college. The parents can’t control what happens once they arrive at the gates, but they can try to make sure their child has what they need.

If you are the parent of a student entering this year, get the items they need, then take time now to be with your child.

It is a tough year. No matter what they do or don’t do, they will get yelled at a lot. Nothing will ever be right. They won’t get positive reinforcement on campus, that is what you can provide.

They will make friends that will become their family. The cadets have a saying, they spend four years trying to get out of The Citadel and then the rest of their lives trying to get back.

If your son or daughter has chosen this path they have the strength to get through the year. Remember that and remind them of that fact often in the months to come.

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