Letter home — Failure: the first step toward success

Mikala Bussey 13 is currently attending the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

jessica lee

Mikala Bussey ’13 is currently attending the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

Mikala Bussey, Class of 2013

The following does not reflect the views of the United States Naval Academy or the US Navy.

Rather than spending an extended summer after my high school graduation partying my ass off before college, I reported to the United States Naval Academy for the seven weeks of pure hell known as plebe summer. Those seven weeks exist to turn civilians into Midshipmen so that the next four years can be spent developing Midshipmen “morally, mentally, and physically” into officers in either the Navy or Marine Corps.

Plebe summer began on Induction Day (or I-day), a day of which I don’t remember much other than a blur of running around and getting yelled at followed by a swearing-in ceremony and  a brief reunion with my family that concluded with the doors of Bancroft Hall—my home for the next four years—slamming dramatically behind me and my 1200 classmates.

The next morning and the next seven weeks are even more of a blur. We could not use clocks so I lost all sense of time. The only breaks were the half hour every night and few hours on Sunday mornings when the detailers—upperclassmen tasked with training us—could not touch us.

The lessons I learned over plebe summer range from mundane daily tasks like ironing and making racks (or beds, since we have to have different names for everything) to an intimate understanding of what it feels like to fall flat on your face and fail. Everyone fails at some point over plebe summer. Some deal with it better than others. At the end of the day, however, those who took it well were always there to pick up those of us who did not. I never relied on my peers as much as I did over plebe summer or as much as I do now.

Plebes succeed and fail as a team. There are forty-one of us in my company and if one of us is sub-par we are all responsible. We all made it through plebe summer together and now we have to get through plebe year the same way. Instead of detailers we have training staff, who are a group of upperclassmen tasked with continuing our training (as their name implies) and ensuring our plebe year is as miserable as tradition dictates it should be. Some things have not changed: we’re still subject to the whims and fancies of upperclassmen, we’re still in this situation together, and I’m still learning how to fail on my own.