After visiting both VMI and The Citadel last week, I have finally made my decision for college. I have given it a lot of thought and have come to, what was in the end, an easy decision. I have decided to accept my appointment and go to school at the Virginia Military Institute. And what was the deciding factor? The attitudes of each school.
But, in order to better understand how I came to this resolution, you first must understand my infatuation with the military environment. My love of the military system is that it instills discipline, self-reliance, teamwork, trust, attention to detail, and creates bonds between classmates that are everlasting. There is nothing like mutual suffering to bring people together, as I have experienced in those long, hot summer football practices. But that is its entire purpose, to help in the creation of the “whole man,” by teaching him the skills he needs to succeed in life. But when this purpose if lost or forgotten, cast aside if you will, then the system becomes nothing more than an instrument to torture and abuse the lower-classmen, who are usually referred to as Rats, plebes or knobs. Now, let us return to the narrative.
When the family and I arrived at VMI, the campus was absolutely splendid. The Dogwoods were in full bloom and there wasn’t a stormcloud in sight. To be honest, it was a beautiful Spring day. When we entered the Admissions Office, we were greeted by the secretary and my admissions counselor. She immediately took me alone into a beautiful post-bellum former living room that had been converted into an office. There, we talked about what I wanted to do at VMI, she asked me questions about what other colleges I was accepted to and my background, and she answered any questions I had. After receiving my intinerary for the numerous meetings I would have that day, and then headed over to Alumni Memorial Field and especially Cormack Field House, to talk to the head football coach. Unfortunately, he was in a meeting that conflicted with my schedule, but the secretary there assured me he would be around all day and I could meet with him later on when the team was practicing. From there I went on to meet the head of the Mechanical Engineering Department. Except, he wasn’t available either. He had to go teach a class. So the former head of the department gladly met with me and let me know everything I wanted to know about being an engineer at VMI. He also told my dad where all of the good rivers and streams were. My father appreciated that, being the avid fisherman that he is. From there we took a tour of The Post, as it is called. The tour was led by a Cadet First Class, who was inciteful and funny. He related to us the history of The Post and provided his own personal anecdotes. In all, I think he gave a much better glimpse at life on Post than most other people we met.
We departed from the tour early in order to make it to a meeting with a representative for the NROTC department. The Lieutenant who we met with was articulate and smart and answered just about every question I had. From there we found our way back over to Cocke Hall, where the football team was working out and where we hoped to meet with the head football coach, Jim Reid. If anything stands out in my whirlwind of meetings at VMI, it is my meeting with Coach Reid. He did not mention what position I would play or stats, instead he gave me the long and short of the entire VMI experience. He talked about teamwork and embracing the VMI process. He talked about how it would take commitment and desire to make it through VMI and how he expected more from his players in everything, not just football. He talked about what it would take to make it through to graduation. He told me what to expect when I matriculated in the fall. He was honest, and he spoke like VMI was already a championship-level team, when he was really just starting to build the team. He was confident and charismatic. He was a prototypical football coach. Oh, and he thinks I should play fullback.
Overall, the people at VMI were helpful and hammered home the fact that they were there to educate the students and help them in any way possible. Everything was neatly organized and everyone was squared-away. The same cannot be said of The Citadel. Before we even arrived in Charleston, South Carolina, El Cid was already losing major points.
The people at The Citadel had never returned any of our phone calls to confirm our appointments with the various representatives of the college. When we finally arrived at The Citadel, we got in touch with an employee from the admissions office, we found out that our schedule had been rearranged. I was already disappointed in what I was seeing and hearing from The Citadel. While they could talk a mean game what with their newsletters and pamphlets and what not, they so far did not seem that organized and were not too good on the customer service. But I figured that they were just really busy, since the school year was ending all. So after grabbing a quick bite to eat, we met up with my admissions representative, who walked us over to meet with the football team’s recruiting coach. And I gotta tell you, this coach came nowhere close to Coach Reid. He talked about seeing my game film and if I didn’t have film, then I probably wasn’t going to stand a good chance of playing. He showed us the facilities and told us how money was not an issue and how they had all they needed. And then, for the coup de gras, we walked right by the head coach, and the recruiter couldn’t even bother with introducing us to him. So far, The Citadel was trailing far behind VMI, but I was going to give them the benefit of the doubt until I finished my day of meetings, meetings, and more meetings.
From the football offices we headed over to the NROTC detachment’s offices. While there, we heard the standard, come here and commission into the Navy. He told me how much I could benefit with a Citadel education and he answered my questions. He was probably the most helpful person at The Citadel. After the meeting with the Lieutenant from the NROTC detachment we took a cadet-guided tour. It was this tour that killed any chance that I was going to attend the Military College of South Carolina. The cadet was knowledgeable and answered our questions, but in answering one of them provided a look into the dark world of the fourth-class system. You see, The Citadel provides their knobs with the joys of the fourth-class system for the entirety of their freshman year, while VMI’s only lasts for the first semester. Now, what is the purpose of VMI’s fourth-class system? To teach self-discipline, attention to detail, and how to think under pressure. But, as mentioned earlier, it seems that The Citadel has forgotten the purpose of being a knob. When asked about being a knob, our tour guide has that knobs were lower than dirt, and that if he wanted to, he “could harass them(we had a few walking past us) right now if he wanted,” until he was blue in the face. This was not environment I wanted to be a part of. I did not want to go to a military school where the military part of it was there only to harass and abuse the fourth-classmen. This did not teach them anything valuable about life, this only perpetuated the cycle of abuse because today’s knobs would rise to cadre positions and would then abuse and harass tommorrow’s knobs, and it would only continue until someone put a stop to it. There was no purpose to this military system. It did not help create the “whole man,” it only created bullies. I was so taken aback that I nearly left then and there. I knew right there that The Citadel was not for me.
We left the tour and visited the Physics department. The man we met with was the next head of the department and he never once answered my questions directly. Instead he talked about how he was about to revolutionize astronomy and physics with his new automated telescope. I got the distinct feeling that he did not even care if I was in the room, he spent most of his time talking to my parents. VMI employees on the otherhand spent their time talking to me and pretty much only me. After talking with him, we talked with the secretary for the department and she informed me, in no uncertain terms, that if I wanted to be a Physics major, then I could not play football. I had seen and heard enough, I knew then and there that I did not want to attend The Citadel, it had nothing to offer me. VMI on the otherhand, had everything and a bag of chips, that I wanted in a college. They were going to be there for me, and would not let me fall through the cracks. Plus they offered a solid foundation and education for success in whatever field I worked in. So in short, in August I will embark on the next leg of this journey that is my life. It will be one of the toughest parts of my journey, but the pros far outweigh the cons and the rewards of the strife and discomfort will be tremendous. And as Coach Reid said, all I have to do is “Embrace The Process.”