Recognition Day at The Citadel: a report from campus

This past Saturday was Recognition Day at The Citadel. What is Recognition Day? From the school’s press release:

For freshmen, known on campus as knobs, Recognition Day marks the end of the highly regimented way of life that is The Citadel’s Fourth Class System, recognized as one of the toughest college military-training systems in the country.

The day begins at sunrise and includes hours of rigorous physical training tests and drills which are overseen by the regimental staff and the Commandant of Cadets. Those activities include an obstacle course nicknamed The Gauntlet, which will be set up on Summerall Field and will get underway at 10:30 a.m. It will be followed by one of the most iconic sights in Charleston – the Recognition Day March to Marion Square. The march begins at 3 p.m. at the college’s main gate. The freshmen will proceed in formation down Moultrie St., turning right on King St. to Marion Square, which was the college’s original parade ground in the mid-1800s.

A few years ago, Recognition Day underwent what might be called a “format change”. This has led to a fair amount of discussion on various social media outlets.

Normally there wouldn’t be any particular reason for me to be on campus during Recognition Day. However, several people suggested to me that I ought to see what the “new” Recognition Day was all about.

I arrived on campus early Saturday morning, and then observed the activities that make up ‘The Gauntlet’. I didn’t watch the march to Marion Square. Instead, I went to the baseball game at Riley Park (The Citadel beat Wofford 4-3, with a fantastic game-saving catch by centerfielder Clay Martin playing a major role in the victory).

Prior to “The Gauntlet” (which began at roughly 10:30 am), the freshmen went on an early-morning PT run, then were instructed in “leadership training” classes held in various buildings. After ‘The Gauntlet’, they went on yet another run across campus, then went back to the barracks, did the traditional pushups (I don’t know the exact number; maybe 118?), and then finally heard the announcement that all graduates still remember fondly: “The fourth-class system is no longer in effect.”

I’m an old goat, so my own Recognition Day was almost three decades ago. Afterwards, I mentally compared yesteryear to this year.

  • Was my Recognition Day different from this past Saturday? Yes.
  • Was my Recognition Day tougher than this past Saturday? No.
  • Was my Recognition Day more purposeful than this past Saturday? No.
  • Was my Recognition Day better than this past Saturday? No.

My general takeaway from Saturday’s events was that, on the whole, it’s a well-conceived way to end the fourth-class system in a given year. I think some alums have misgivings based on the fact that Recognition Day now actually has more order to it, but I believe the current well-structured setup is a good thing.

Again, the “modern” Recognition Day has a sense of purpose to it that hasn’t always been the case in prior years. Perhaps some might disagree, but I don’t really buy the notion that the point of Recognition Day is for freshmen to suffer some kind of physical abuse and/or to be demeaned in some fashion. In my opinion, those types of activities are unnecessary and largely counter-productive.

I remember several things about my own Recognition Day. One distinct memory: as we were lining up for the afternoon parade that immediately preceded the final burst of lunacy, a sophomore took the butt of his rifle and smacked it against my breastplate, leaving a large concave indentation.

I suppose I was lucky that the only thing that stayed concave was the breastplate.

At any rate, it didn’t enhance my experience at The Military College of South Carolina. It didn’t teach me a lesson about leadership, or provide an opportunity for team-building, or improve my physical fitness.

There are two other aspects of the “new” Recognition Day I want to mention. One is not really that big a deal; the other strikes me as more problematic.

Recognition Day is now held in early April, instead of just before Graduation Day. I think this is probably a good idea. From an academic perspective, ending the fourth-class system before final exams isn’t a bad thing at all.

Also, I would suspect that most upperclassmen are just as ready for recognition to take place as the freshmen are. Back in the day, even the most “moto” sophomores and juniors weren’t as enthused about challenging freshmen once spring break was over. Besides, during exams the knobs were always “at ease” anyway.

However, I am still coming to grips with Recognition Day’s now public nature. When I was in school, the idea that friends and family could watch you during Recognition Day events…well, there was no such idea.

Before arriving, I was a little worried that parents would show up in full-on cheerleading mode, with accompanying signage, etc. Thankfully, I didn’t see anything like that.

In terms of the audience and its relationship to the festivities, it was a lot like a parade. My (possibly faulty) estimation was that about 1,500 people showed up to watch Recognition Day activities (with ‘The Gauntlet’ being held on Summerall Field for four of the battalions, and on WLI Field for the other).

The crowd included parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters, girlfriends, a few random alums, and at least two dozen dogs. Also in attendance: AD Jim Senter and new hoops coach Duggar Baucom, watching the action together.

I believe the unrestricted access for viewing the proceedings is unfortunate. Ideally, Recognition Day would be by the corps of cadets, for the corps of cadets, and mostly include just the corps of cadets.

At times, I felt like a voyeur — and I’m a graduate who had experienced Recognition Day as a participant.

I had a great deal of sympathy for the cadets who were really struggling. Not only were they going through something very difficult, but they were doing it in front of their families, and (I think this is important) other people’s families.

As a cadet, I wouldn’t have liked that at all. As an alumnus, I don’t like it now.

There is another side to the argument, of course. After it was all over, I expressed some reservations. I mentioned that I wouldn’t have enjoyed my mother attending Recognition Day, and that I didn’t think she would have wanted to be there either.

I was respectfully but firmly challenged on that line of thinking by a mother of a current freshman. She told me she was very glad to be there, and would have been unhappy not to have the opportunity.

One thing I sometimes forget (perhaps because I don’t have children) is that when a high school senior elects to go to The Citadel, he or she isn’t alone in being affected by that decision. In a certain way, the entire family goes to The Citadel.

For some families, it has been a long first year. In that sense, Recognition Day is important for them too.

When I think about it that way, it makes me a little more understanding. I feel a little better about the situation.

I am still not a big fan of “public” Recognition Day, but I can accept it. The bottom line is that it doesn’t detract from the accomplishments of the freshmen.

Also, it’s not going to change anytime soon. You will excuse the cynic in me for noting that the gift shop sold a lot of folding chairs on Saturday.

One final observation:

I didn’t watch the freshmen march to Marion Square on Saturday, because it conflicted with the baseball game (and you know which event I was going to attend). However, the march is an inspired addition to Recognition Day. The individual who came up with that idea should take a bow.

An aspect to the march which I particularly like is that it further connects the college with the city.

Congratulations to the Class of 2018. Just remember, you have three years left, and they aren’t easy ones. That said, you’ve accomplished one major goal. Well done.

Below are some pictures, most of which (as usual) aren’t very good. For much better photos, I recommend the work of Russ Pace and company.

I threw in a few non-Recognition Day shots at the beginning; the final picture is a nod to another day of note at The Citadel.

 

One Response

  1. Thanks for the Recognition Day report

    Jim Maxon

    Date: Wed, 15 Apr 2015 12:42:27 +0000 To: kjmaxon@msn.com

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