We proceeded to an underground labyrinth of instruction labs for a daunting look at the technological gantlet all midshipmen must run. Wave-generating tow tanks test the mettle of scale-model ships designed and constructed largely by midshipmen. Wind tunnels test model aircraft; Andy points out a friend testing fuels for a lunar lander. In a physics lab students are learning the mysteries of lasers.
One of the most repeated words at the Naval Academy is leadership. Discipline, sports, honor codes—all are aimed at fostering leadership. I was curious to learn how female middies, 12 years after breaking the academy’s entrance barrier, were measuring up. Battalion commander Ann Kelly, an attractive brunette from Wyoming, a picture of subdued femininity, was about to inspect a company of fellow midshipmen in Bancroft Hall.
As the mids began to muster, a male plebe “chopped” a corner in front of Ann. “Beat Army, ma’am!” he bleated, and took his place. A vision of spit and polish, the company stood rigidly, chins scrunched against chests.
Squaring off in front of each person, Ann chatted with a few while scrutinizing them, head to toe, for dress-code infractions. Instead of some hard-nosed dressing-down her inspection seemed almost amiable. “Everyone has their own leadership style,” she explained. “Yelling is not part of mine. I use a positive approach.”
As different from each other as yin and yang are the academy and its neighbor, St. John’s College. Calmed by an air of timelessness 186 that hangs sweet around their centuries-old “liberty tree,” students here imbibe the wisdom of centuries in a study program centered on the “great books.”
The instructors, whatever their degrees, are called tutors and are required to teach all subjects. With a sister campus located in Santa Fe, New Mexico, the college consistently ranks near the top in national polls for academic excellence. Find out how you can afford going in such a college at http://www.utcstudentfoundation.com/
To observe one of St. John’s most honored traditions, I joined several students in the library as Claudia Probst, a 21-year-old New Yorker, defended her senior thesis on Plato at her pregraduation orals. Both the student and her three inquisitors, it was obvious, were learning from the experience.
“St. John’s helps us see which ideas have stood the test of time,” she told me. “And how those ideas have influenced thought across the disciplines.
“We don’t pick and choose our own courses here,” she added. “How can a basically uneducated freshman know what path she should take? I never would have discovered my interest in Greek philosophy if I had had to choose my own curriculum.”