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The Citadel: Tips from One Parent for Graduation Weekend

The Long Grey Line, 2011 photo by Stanley LearyIt won’t be long until your senior cadet will be graduating. The cadets wait four years for this weekend, then spend the rest of their lives wishing they could return.

In some cases the cadets will be commissioned into a branch of the military, graduate and report for duty. Other cadets will graduate and begin their careers in the business world or go on to graduate school.

The events of commencement weekend begin on Thursday with an awards ceremony and the baccalaureate service. The Star of the West competition is also held Thursday.

Cadet Nelson Lalli receives his lieutenant bars from his father, Blake Lalli and his uncle, LTC (Ret.) John Lalli photo by Stanley Leary

LT Lalli receives his first salute from SFC Polidoro photo by Stanley Leary

The commissioning services are held Friday morning. The Army usually goes first. Check with your cadet and/or the ROTC office if you have questions about the ceremony.We were told to arrive an hour early to secure the best seat. Two family members may pin the bars on the new lieutenant and may sit with him or her. The rest of the family and friends sit behind them. After the ceremony in the chapel the lieutenants go out to the parade field to receive their first salute from a non-commissioned officer (NCO). It is customary for the new officer to give the NCO a silver dollar at this time.

We gave our cadet a Lifetime Membership in the Citadel Alumni Association. All new Lifetime members and up to 3 other guests may attend a gathering in their honor at the alumni building. A cadet miniature ring or pendant is a nice gift idea for a cadet to give their mother. Since they are expensive it may be a gift for later, after the graduate has worked for a few years. Other scheduled events Friday include instructions and photos of alumni and their graduate son or daughters or grandsons and daughters.

The Summerall Guards perform for the graduating class prior to the final graduation parade. The schedule states that in the case of inclement weather the parade will be canceled. In May of 2011 President Rosa told us the only reason they would cancel the parade was if there was lightning. True to his word, the parade took place in the pouring rain. We were soaked, but happy.

You will want to find a spot across from your cadets company during the parade. At the designated time the seniors are called out of their companies and from the Long Grey Line, standing shoulder to shoulder the length the parade field. They then march toward the review stands and away from their companies. When they reach the other side the graduating seniors turn around and wave to their companies. Be sure to have your cameras, and tissues, handy!

I was warned by a friend whose son graduated a year before mine not to be surprised if my son didn’t spend a lot of time with us. The seniors begin to realize that the closer they get to graduation the closer they get to saying good-bye to their close friends. They have lived for the day when they no longer had to worry about an SMI or a Friday parade, but graduating also means they will never again live with all these good friends again. As an observer throughout the weekend I could see this realization hit the new graduates one by one.

May of 2011 it poured throughout the parade. We were soaked and decided to skip the reception at the president’s home. I’m sure most years it is a lovely event to attend.

McAlister Fieldhouse fills up quickly on graduation day. photo by Stanley Leary

Graduation on Saturday is pretty typical of most college graduations. Each cadet is given up to 8 tickets to use. If you need more tickets your cadet is told to resource with friends who may not use the allotment. The Cadet Activities office handles the ticket process. The tickets are assigned to you and can be any where in the field house. I am not sure of the procedure for accessible seating. When in doubt check with the Cadet Activities office directly.

Like the parades when the companies are in alphabetical order, the cadets sit in alphabetical order. Once you spot one or two you know you can then start to narrow down where your cadet is seated. We played a modified game of “Where’s Waldo” to keep my daughter occupied. If you have you ger family members I suggest packing quiet activities like coloring books since the ceremony will last at least 3 hours.

We played "Where's Waldo" while waiting to hear our cadet's name called. photo by Stanley Leary

At the very end of the graduation ceremony the president will dismiss the cadets for the last time. Be sure to have your camera ready. The photos with all their covers in the air are really fun!

It helps to have a plan after the ceremony of where you will meet. Many families met on the floor. Others met outside.

DISMISSED!!! photo by Stanley Leary


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

General information regarding commencement weekend tickets and handicap access, see the FAQ link above for more information.

Many seniors never want to see their uniforms again. If you want to have it, make sure you let your cadet know prior to graduation week. Many of them leave their uniforms behind. The underclassmen then through the rooms of abandoned clothes and pick up what they will need for the next year.

Rental houses and condos book up quickly. Get yours as soon as you can. We stayed in a hotel and had no trouble getting reservations a few months ahead.

Each company and group of friends have their own traditions at graduation. We were invited to a luncheon by the family of one of our sons friends. I’ve heard of others who rented homes and hosted beach parties.

Dress for the weekend events – See FAQ link above. Most people dress up a little more for the commencement weekend events than for regular parades during the year. Graduation and the Commissioning ceremonies especially. You will see a wide variety of outfits though. The general rule of thumb is to match the uniform of the day for the cadets which for graduation and the parade is their most formal. For the commissioning ceremony, the Lifetime Membership Luncheon and graduation my daughter and I wore dresses and my husband wore a tie. If it is a sunny weekend, you may want to wear a hat with a wide brim to help shield you from the sun during the parade.

The Citadel, Bravo Company 2011, photo by Stanley Leary


The Citadel: Parents Weekend and Ring Weekend tips

Bravo Company, 2011 Seniors show off their rings. photo by Stanley Leary

In one week my oldest son will graduate from Armor Basic Officer Leader Course (BLOC) at Fort Benning, GA.  In two weeks families from around the country will arrive in Charleston, SC for Parents’ Weekend at The Citadel.  This is the first time in four years we will not be in Charleston and it feels really strange.

I was going through photos from last year and thought of a few things I learned about parents Weekend that I should pass along.

For the families of seniors this weekend is all about the Ring. The afternoon presentation is in McAlister Field house.  The Cadet Activities office does a great job of posting information in advance. You’ll see people in all types of dress.  The senior cadets will be in their most formal uniform.  We decided to wear nice clothes for the presentation.

One little tip for the mothers of cadets. . .  if you would like the “Mother’s Ring” or a pendant consider buying it for yourself. Some cadets will order them on their own, but not many do. Parents of underclass cadets – the ring is ordered in their junior year.  The payment is due early their senior year.  The price varies with the gold prices and it can be close to $1,000.

After the seniors go into the field house the rest of the Corps of Cadets and their families can participate in the academic open house and the address by the president, or just leave campus.  Of course you always need to check with your cadet.  Depending on their rank and company they may have certain duties to perform.

The RIng Ceremony. A photo is taken when you go through the ring then half way down the carpet. I didn’t look the right way. You will hear a voice through the flower arrangement telling you to look to your right. photo by Stanley Leary

Friday night is the night the senior cadets walk through the replica of the Ring with their mother, date and /or family member. The cadet activities office posts the schedule of when each company is assigned to go through the ring. You need to be at the field house 15 minutes prior to the posted time. If you have an early time you can plan on dinner after you go through the ring. Our time was after 8:00 so a group of Bravo families went to dinner prior to going through the ring. Our cadets didn’t plan ahead. One of the moms’s called around Wednesday night to find a place that would take our group of 30 a the last-minute. Some companies have a tradition of having dinner together at a hotel. The school arranges to have a photographer at the presentation and also at he Hop afterwards. Do not be upset if your senior wants to spend most of their time with their buddies.  They have waited three years to earn the right to wear that band of gold.

Bravo Company flag. Parents’ Weekend 2010

Saturday morning is a crazy busy time.  Schedules vary but in general you can go to the barracks and see your cadet and their room. . Parents’ Weekend is the first time of the school year when they have Open Barracks, a time when family, friends and alumni can enter the barracks and visit rooms. The knobs prepare for this day weeks in advance.  They put a lot of time into painting a banner to be displayed from the 4th division (4th floor) of the barracks. If you wondered where their sheets went to, take a close look at the banner. Seriously, the banner and the various bulletin boards are a big deal.  Each floor has a different bulletin board.  The cadets take great pride in their designs each year.  Make sure to notice them.

You can hear the Regimental Band concert of Summerall Field, watch the Kelly Cup competition and see the Rifle Legion Performance Saturday morning too.  At 10:00 parents of knobs will want to be in the battalion to watch the promotion ceremony for the knobs.  They are promoted from cadet recruits to cadet privates. The Citadel Heroes volunteers will man a table where you can sign cards for deployed cadets and recent graduates.

After the promotion ceremony the cadets get ready for the parade. First year parents will soon learn to stake out their spot in the stands early or bring their own chairs.

There is very little time between the parade and when the cadets have to get ready to march to the football stadium. You can pack your own lunch, eat in Coward Mess Hall or purchase a box lunch through cadet activities. We ate in the mess hall the first year then brought our own lunch after the first year.  I’ve learned that if you ask 5 different people their opinion of what to do for lunch that day you will get 5 different answers.  Do what your cadet would like to do.

It is fun to watch the cadets march to the stadium. Once you get to your seats you can watch the cadets line the field to cheer on the team. The cadets all sit together. We found sitting across the field from the cadet section was our favorite spot.  You are out of the sun. The Summerall Guards perform at half-time.

(NOTE the following paragraph about group tickets is not valid for 2012 tickets. There are no group rates for parent’s Weekend and Homecoming in 2012)

A good friend of mine purchased a block of tickets at a discount then made them available to friends.  The normal $30 ticket at the group rate was only $6 each.  My son’s senior year we had over 200 people in our section.  I had to pay for the tickets but everyone sent me their checks and a self-addressed stamped envelope. To do this you need to plan in advance. I purchased the tickets Matriculation Weekend at the ticket office and had the pick of the best seating. Posting a notice to the parent Facebook groups is a quick way to get the word out about ticket availability.

Once the game is over the cadets are free to join their family and friends. We were fortunate to have a group of friends to tailgate with each fall. Most knobs want to get good food and sleep before returning to the barracks around 11:30 pm. There is a silent procession of cars that drive around the parade field the hour before their curfew. It reminded me of the final scene from the movie “Field of Dreams,” when all you can see are a stream of headlights.

Sunday morning after chapel or ethics seminar the knobs can go off campus until about 6:00 or 7:00.

Just remember the weekend will fly by. You’ll do a lot of walking so wear comfortable shoes. Parking is always tight these big weekends so getting to campus early Saturday is a good idea.

The 2011 Summerall Guards perform at half time of the game on parents’ Weekend.

Miscellaneous tips and info:

Dress: Be sure to check the weather reports. The past 4 years the weather was mostly very warm and sunny. Summer weight clothes are best. You’ll see a variety of outfits, mostly casual. Comfortable shoes are best since you do a good bit of walking. It did rain one year.  Umbrellas are not allowed in the stadium. A rain poncho is best.

Hotels: Most hotels will offer a special rate for Citadel families.  Call the hotel directly and ask if they offer a Citadel family rate.  The hotels closest to the school book very quickly. Marriott, Best Western, LaQuinta and SpringHill Suites, Marriott Courtyard are all very close.  The Hawthorn Suites Hotel is near The Citadel Mall and about 7 miles away they offer a very low rate for a suite room. Please feel free to leave your hotel recommendations in the comment section.


Charleston is known for it’s great restaurants.  Reservations are suggested for most fine dining restaurants. You can find some wonderful places all around the area.  The places farther from downtown are easier to get into and the prices can be lower too. Feel free to leave a comment below with your favorite restaurant tips.

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