Herndon (still) on the Chopping Block

It appears a decades-old tradition may be coming to an end and with it another guilty pleasure will die. This could be the last year U.S. Naval Academy freshmen “climb” a greased granite obelisk, a ritual that marks the end of Plebe (or freshman) Year.

Herndon Monument is located at the academy in Annapolis, Md. At the start of Commissioning (graduation) Week each year, upper classmen lard up the obelisk and place a plebe “Dixie Cup” at the top. Freshmen assault the monument and work to replace the plebe cover with that of an upperclassman.

Granted this “tradition” is silly, but it is what it is. Any teamwork is usually among a very smug few. The midshipmen seem more like an out-of-control mob than future officers or even present-day college students. But the value may be in its uselessness. It may be more of what college kids at Louisiana State University or University of Georgia or even the University of Maryland might do. Allowing college kids pledge to be upper classmen at the end of “Rush” Year may not be a bad thing.

Outgoing Academy Superintendent Vice Adm. Jeffrey L. Fowler predicts the academy’s “Sea Trials” might be more a more “appropriate” way to mark the passage from first to second year.

Dating to 1998, Sea Trials have mids compete in a series of endurance events and aquatic challenges. They even face-off in paint ball and pugil stick events. Sea Trial events place the plebes in quasi-combat scenarios.

Herndon could not be more different from its “appropriate” replacement. While the academies are churning out reasonably competent professionals, they seem to lack frivolity and appreciation for the creative (and sometimes criminal) mind. But that seems to matter little. If things go as they seem to be planned, the granite Master of Mirth will be remembered as just another monument littering the Yard.

We could attempt to rescue the soon-to-be-forgotten hunk of stone, but the significance of the act would be lost on most.

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