Plebe summer at the Naval Academy is over and the academic year is fully underway. My commute to campus is an easy walk and if I time it just right, I get to weave through the Brigade of midshipmen, observing the differences among the students – the newness of this place for the plebes and the ever-growing confidence of the upperclassmen.
I remember my plebe year, as if it were yesterday.
As I recollect, the pace was exhausting. The running, the questioning, the yelling, the memorization never stopped. On top of academics and adjusting to college life in general, we had the ongoing challenges as plebes at the bottom of the hierarchical pile. It all rolls downhill as they say, and at the bottom are the plebes, catching it all.
Although all of us were plebes, as women, we stood out—all the time. We had to put up with the same challenges (physical, mental, emotional) the men experienced, and then more. Far more. We had the vexing challenge of plowing hardscrabble ground that had never been touched before—at that time, it had been over 130 years of tradition as a male-only military school. As women began entering the Academy in 1976, we represented a small percentage of each incoming class, about 6%.
Back then however, the constant need to defend our presence was both exhausting and crushing.
“Why am I doing this?” I asked myself that question many times at the Naval Academy.
Getting a college degree at any other university would have been much easier. I had to constantly remind myself that I was engaging in something far bigger than myself and far more important than obtaining a college degree. We were opening doors and building a runway for ourselves and for the women who would follow us.
Public Law 94-106, signed my President Gerald Ford, opened the door for women at the nation’s service academies. We were determined to keep it open.
What we came to realize was that our actions (over many years), not our words, would show that we belonged at the Naval Academy and in the Naval Service. Standing on the shoulders of the women who went before us like the WAVES and the WASP, we were there to get an education accessible nowhere else and open a new pathway for women to become new types of Navy and Marine Corps officers. Our ongoing presence day after day, year after year, would change attitudes toward women and, ultimately, validate the law.
Today it is far different as women represent almost 30% of the student body at the Naval Academy. Women serve at all ranks in the Naval Service and continue to make their presence known. Captain (and USNA graduate) Amy Bauernschmidt commands the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and Admiral Lisa Franchetti, the acting Chief of Naval Operations, now holds the highest position within the U.S. Navy.
As I was a plebe, I could not have imagined the changes that have occurred. Today, I revel in the progress women have made in the Naval Service.
I know that change is difficult, and change takes time. But persistence pays off. Need to make a change in your life or your organization? Let’s talk and get started!
Want to know more? Check out my book: Flight Lessons: Navigating Through Life’s Turbulence and Learning to Fly High.
#change, #persistence, #mentor, #mentorship, #leadership