Supporting Your Cadet through January and February

Sunset behind the boat house
Before I leave campus each visit I stop at the boathouse and go out to the dock to take a few photos. It is such a tranquil place on a campus not known for it’s tranquility.

Each year at the beginning of second semester I field questions and concerns from parents worried about their cadet. Sometimes the worry stems from a call or text home saying the cadet wants to transfer. Other times it is homesickness, and still other calls come in with concerns around depression. If you suspect clinical depression is the problem the cadet should be evaluated by a mental health professional.

I’ve mentioned these dynamics in other posts over the years. After the winter furlough is one of the toughest times for all the cadets. On top of the tough daily grind of cadet life, it’s cold and dark too.

As the days grow longer, the cadets morale tends to improve. Parents are wired to try and fix the problems of our children. For parents of cadets the hardest adjustment is realizing you are no longer the fixer of problems. The cadets are at a leadership school and are learning how to solve their own problems. Your role becomes a supporter/confidant one. You can listen to your cadets concerns, but the majority of the time you are not the one to fix the problem. Guiding them through the process of how to fix the problem is the most help you can provide.

In the eight years I’ve supported parents, first as the parent of a cadet and now as the parent of a grad, I’ve noticed a pattern to the types of concerns that arise each semester. I noted this pattern in an earlier post in the Fall. The second semester problems focus on the food service versus the laundry, and academic problems. At some point toward the end of February the focus is on Spring break, Recognition Day and Graduation.

Many parents voice their concerns over the food quality and want to fix it by contacting the school because they foot the bill for tuition room and board. While I understand this train of thought, I have also learned that sending a student to a leadership school means the student is the one to guide their own process and experience. Every situation on campus at The Citadel has a set of rules outlined in the White Book. (Mess Hall, pages 56-57)  The cadets job is to learn the procedures and follow them to resolve what ever issues they have. It is hard for the parents to watch this process.

Last year a young woman cadet addressed a gathering of donors to the Brigadier Foundation. In her address she explained why she had a different perspective on cadet life than many of her classmates. Hear her comments on the link, especially at the 3:40 mark forward.

I know other cadets who went through all four years navigating the laundry and food service situation because they did not have the financial option to go to a pay laundrymat, or order take out for dinner. These graduates are now successful business people living on their own.

While I understand that parents have certain expectations when they are footing the bill for tuition, room and board, I’ve also seen the tremendous educational value of cadets learning to advocate for themselves.

January of Senior Year for Parents of Cadets at The Citadel

Class of 2015 Dismissed!

Each year at this time parents of 1st Class cadets(college seniors) turn their attention to the Spring and graduation time. Many have already booked hotels or rental homes for the week, some have ordered announcements already. Everyone is beginning to expereince mixed emotions. They are proud of their cadet, but also uneasy at the prospect of moving on from parenting a child to being the Supportive parent of a college graduate.

If you haven’t made your travel plans yet, let me share a few insights about graduation week. The school has posted the schedule for the week on the web site. You can view it HERE. Securing your hotel or rental property should be your first task as the properties book quickly. Parents of the 4th class cadets travel to town to pick up their rising sophomores and other colleges in the area also have graduation scheduled.

One other item of business parents can do ahead of time is to order graduation announcements. Each cadet only receives eight tickets to graduation so invitations are not usually sent. Some families make a week long holiday of graduation week and invite family and friends to events hosted at their rental property or at local restaurants. Graduation announcements are mailed within the two weeks after the garduation as a way to let friends and family know of this major life milestone. Some use this as an opportunity to include the new address and contact information for the graduate. The school provides a link on the graduation site to Balfour for invitations. Some parents opt to go with other companies who offer announcements at a better price. A few companies include: Signature, Tiny Prints, Shutterfly

As you can see on the schedule, the events for the seniors begin the Thursday before the Saturday graduation. The awards convovation isn’t attended by everyone but it is something you’ll want to attend if your grad is receiving an award. The baccalaureatte ¬†service in the chapel is also optional, but many cadets and families do attend. If your cadet/grad is given a Lifetime Membership to The Citadel Alumni Association there is a nice luncheon presentation hosted by the CAA on Thursday. A Lifetime membership is a great gift for the grad and one that a group of family members can chip in together and give to the graduate.

The graduating seniors move out of the barracks Thursday evening. Some grads stay with friends others stay with visiting family. Since Friday night is for clearing out and cleaning up, the seniors stay elsewhere. It is important to note here that if you want your son or daughter to keep items from their uniform, let them inow ahead of time. Many seniors leave elements of their uniform behind, as well as items like irons and ironing boards. The cadets in other classes use this last week as an opportunity to scoop up extra items.

Friday morning of graduation week is set aside for the commissioning ceremonies. It is important to note that the ROTC cadets should be saving their stipend to pay for the dress uniform which can run over $1,000. They will get information from the ROTC department about ordering their uniform. Planning for the payment is a good idea.

Since the Army ROTC group is the largest they usually go first. Your cadet will let you know the procedure for pinning on their bars during the ceremony. The chapel fills up quickly so arriving early is a good idea if you want to be seated. Each branch of service has their own traditions around commissioning. Most, I believe, have the traditional first salute to the newly commissioned officer. At the end of the commissioning ceremony the newly commissioned officer is saluted by an NCO or enlisted service member. It is traditional for the new officer to give the person who rendered their first salute a silver dollar.

Depending on the branch of service and time of day it is held some families gather for brunch or lunch afterward. The Summerall Guards perform The Citadel series for the graduates before the Long Gray Line Parade Friday afternoon. Check with your graduate on the best place for you to stand during the parade to see them leave their company and march toward the review stands. There is usually a reception hosted by the President at Quarters One. The last two graduations I attended it rained and we opted to go dry off rather than attend the reception. If the weather is nice it is a lovely event to attend.

The graduates have a keen sense and understanding that they are ending a special time in their lives. This last week they are thrilled to be graduating, but also melancholy about leaving the friends who have become family. Many gards split their time between their famikies and their classmates these final few days. Some families host parties together so the grads can be together with the families. Be sure to talk with your cadet about what they would like to do. Some companies have traditions around graduation. It is best to check well ahead of graduation week.

Graduation on Saturday begins at 9:00am. It is open seating with some seats set aside for people with disabilities. Plan to arrive around 7:30am to get your choice of seating. If you have small children in your party be sure to pack quiet distraction toys like books and coloring books. Of course there are also electronic devices, but bring headphones/ear buds so the noise will not be a distraction to others. The ceremony lasts about three hours. The cadets are seated in alphabetical order. You can ask your cadet which side of the fieldhouse they will be on to make it easier to find them. Another tip I give families is to have a plan on where to meet once the ceremny is over. You can meet on the floor of the fieldhouse, the lobby area or just outside. Since everyone is also looking for their graduate it really does help to decide where your group will meet.

The next few months will fly by. To help you from feeling overwhelmed by it all, plan ahead.

To read previous posts about graduation week, enter the word graduation in the search window of this page.