Ex Scientia Tridens, or “Through knowledge, sea power.”
This is the motto of the United States Naval Academy. As a military school, you can expect a certain degree of discipline at the Academy, but you may be surprised to learn that the students at the school have a lot of fun too. Once a year the Herndon Monument that decorates the campus is slathered with lard and freshmen are challenged to climb the monument and replace a Dixie cup with a hat to celebrate the end of their first year at the Academy.
Located in the historic Maryland town of Annapolis, the Naval Academy is within walking distance to some amazing museums and historic sites. This includes the Alex Haley-Kunta Kinte Memorial, where Kunta Kinte, as documented in ROOTS, first arrived in America.
If you’re wondering how you’ll take to the school, the thing that people love the most about the Naval Academy is the same thing that people hate the most about it: The sense of duty and discipline is very strong here, and there is certainly a culture of competition and a very masculine atmosphere. It’s not for everyone. Some thrive on discipline and competition, while others prefer a less demanding setting.
The list of the famous US Naval Academy alumni that were built for this sort of academic life is a long one. The list includes the first US astronaut in space Alan Shepard, NFL running back Kyle Eckel, Armitage International President Richard Armitage, former US President Jimmy Carter, Senator John McCain, and legendary sci-fi writer Robert Heinlein, among others.
The classes at the Naval Academy can be pretty tough. The curriculum includes moral and ethical education, as well as technical education. Midshipmen at the school actually take part in the construction of satellites that are sent into space. The Naval Academy is not a typical college, and the classes are just as atypical.
The aim of the Naval Academy is not just to teach you the nuts and bolts of your trade, but to shape you into the Navy’s idea of an upstanding citizen. It would be false to classify the Naval Academy as a no-free-thought zone. Heinlein, a graduate of the school, is one of the most free-thinking writers in any genre. It’s hard to disagree with the school’s virtues of honesty and integrity, but if that’s the sort of thing that you would rather learn through life experience and your own insights, then the Naval Academy might not be for you.
That said, the Academy’s tradition of “Salty Sam” is a bit more daring than what you might find at a non-military academy. “Salty Sam” refers to a tradition of pushing for Naval reform with a sense of humor. William Sims, the original “Salty Sam,” was the leading reformer of the Navy in the class of 1880, and retired as a full admiral. Sims would often phrase his criticisms of Naval procedure in rhyme, maintaining a friendly, professional and humorous tone while pushing for reform.
“Many of his letters today are relished not because of the reforms there advocated but because of the hilarious way he presented them… he was addicted to poetry as a means of expression; he shared his thoughts in rhyme whenever possible, sometimes to the despair of his more serious fellows – but others were occasionally enticed to respond in kind.” – Capt. Edward L. Beach
While Navy life can be very disciplined, the tradition of self-criticism sets it apart from many other military and civilian schools.
In such a setting, only the best professors can survive. The staff at the Academy is divided roughly between civilian and military professors. Nearly all civilian instructors carry a PhD and can earn tenure, while most of the military professors carry a master’s degree. There are also military commanders, including some captains, who carry PhDs and serve as Permanent Military Professors. Between these professors, you can expect to gain knowledge and wisdom from a wide spectrum of experience.
It’s not all about academics at the Naval Academy. Everybody at the school is an athlete. You don’t become a military officer by being averse to athletics. Martial arts instruction, rowing, and even croquet are all represented at the Academy. The school isn’t the biggest on spectator sports per se, but there is a general culture of athleticism and physical competition. If you love playing sports, you couldn’t ask for a better school. If you love watching them, the Naval Academy’s sports teams don’t even have an official name.
Check out the Brigade Sports Complex. Practically a Disney World of sporting amenities, the complex boasts indoor batting cages, rugby venues, the McMullen Hockey Arena, a full-size tennis stadium, chipping and putting for the golf team and countless other features. The US Government doesn’t mess around when it comes to providing Naval officers sporting facilities.
Although there are some indoor sports facilities for the winter, you can’t ask for better weather than in Annapolis. It can get a little cold in the winter, but the sea breeze in the summer makes Maryland a great place to live.
That said, again, the Naval Academy isn’t for everyone. The US Military has only recently begun to openly allow gays to join the ranks, and it has always had a rocky relationship with women. You’re not likely to find your future spouse here, and you’re not likely to see a lot of LGBT dating. It could happen, but don’t expect to do a lot of hooking up on campus.
As for the party life, Naval students know how to have a good time, but if any of your classmates had naked pictures of themselves on the Internet, they would probably be kicked out of the school, and the Navy, pretty quickly.
There are plenty of opportunities for on-campus exploration. The Steam Tunnels, also known as Ho Chi Minh Trail, is a wide network of tunnels underneath the campus. These tunnels are brick encased and house steam pipes between Bancroft Hall and Mahan Hall. These buildings are not steam-heated anymore, but the tunnels remain as an eerie and cool reminder of days gone by.
Although the Naval Academy isn’t always regarded as one of the most progressive schools, 2012 saw the graduation of Sam Tan Wei Shen from Singapore. This marked the very first foreigner in history to graduate from the US Naval Academy. Admittedly, the Naval Academy has often been slow to come around on certain issues. Offering opportunities for foreign-born students is just one of those issues.
More recently, three Navy football players were accused in the rape of a female midshipman. This event even drew commentary from President Barack Obama, and many note a recent spike in reported sexual assaults in the military. One source reports that the alleged victim was reprimanded for drinking while the football players were given no punishment.
The investigation is ongoing, so bear in mind that these types of reports always wind up painted in alternating shades of black and white by various media outlets. Conservative media will defend the accused to the bitter end while liberal media outlets cannot resist an opportunity to attack the US military. The truth is usually somewhere in between, and if you’re considering a Naval career, you would be wise to read all the facts and wait for the verdict to form a strong opinion on the story.