In 1862 The Morrill Land Grant Act was signed July 2nd, the first step towards the creation of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. In 1872 Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College was established along with the Corps of Cadets which was made up of one battalion and two companies as the entire student body. Compare that to the three battalions and 12 companies (roughly 1,100 cadets) today and 27,000+ undergraduate civilian students.
The Corps of Cadets started this school. I want to argue why the mental and physical stress placed on the freshman that has existed from the beginning of the program is good. The healthy dose of stress makes freshman into better students, better human beings, and those who commit will become leaders of exemplary character and unquestionable honor in both the military and civilian world.
As a current freshman in the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets (VTCC) I am currently known as a “rat” to the upperclassmen. All freshman are rats in the eyes of the upperclassmen and sometimes get treated as such. The adjustment for new cadets takes a big toll on our physical health. While the amount of exercise we all do is great for us, the biggest physical stress factor is the lack of sleep. All cadets seem to never get enough sleep. There is extensive research on sleep deprivation causing changes in weight, daytime sleepiness, and clumsiness. In addition to physical effects, there are also adverse effects to the brain and cognitive function. It would be better if we could nap during the day. Most companies limit the time freshman can take
naps. Personally, my company allows freshman a single one-hour nap per day. Anyway, that is not the main point of emphasis of my essay. I want to talk about what some of the positives of mental stresses on freshman cadets are and how they are good and will help us in the long run.
There are many things that we do here in the corps as freshman that may seem totally useless and mentally stressful. One thing freshman do is something called ‘dragging’. Dragging is on the upper quad, in Pearson Hall or New Cadet Hall. We must always walk the right side of the hallway or when outside we must stay to the right side of the path. To add more stress, we must walk at a pace of 120 steps per minute. Moreover, we are not allowed to look around at anything or anyone (gazing). Our eyes must be fixed forward at all times. Furthermore, there is absolutely no casual talking outdoors on upper quad or when in the hallway of the cadet dorms. Let’s just think about the stress of always walking to the right side, say for example I want to use the bathroom and its right across the hall from my dorm room; instead of being able to cut across the middle of the hallway, I must ‘Drag’ along the right side of the hallway until I get the very end and turn left 90 degrees twice, and continue on my way down the right side until I reach the bathroom. You’re probably wondering why we have to do that. Personally, I hate doing this and sometimes just want to be a normal person sometimes. However, this has been the tradition for years and it’s just what freshman do. As tedious and annoying as dragging may seem, there is a purpose behind it. The primary purpose behind dragging is to instill in a level of military discipline and a sense of urgency (120 steps per minute). This in turn teaches us to act with confidence under pressure. Secondarily, it aims to improve freshman’s marching skills along with our facing and pivot movements that we may execute while marching. By practicing every day, marching has become second nature and don’t even think about it anymore. One last point to mention on the topic of dragging. You might be wondering why is this stressful? Dragging
creates bigger hassles in everyday life more so than one would think. Also, the longer you are dragging in the hallway the more likely you are to ‘Sound Off’ which I will talk about in the next paragraph.
To piggy-back off the last paragraph on dragging, “Sounding Off” goes hand in hand with it. Sounding off is one of the biggest stress factors, in my opinion, that freshman are burdened with. Sounding off is greeting every upperclassman (Sophomore, Junior, Senior) in the corps with their proper name and rank. For example, when dragging in the hallway I have to sound off by saying, “Good morning or afternoon depending on the time of day, then address upperclassman by rank, and lastly their last name!”. For instance, good afternoon Cadet Corporal Smith. If there is more than one upperclassman in the hallway, freshman have sound off to the upperclassmen in order from the highest to the lowest rank. For example, I would sound off to a Cadet Sergeant before I would a Cadet Corporal. Now this doesn’t seem so bad right? What’s bad about it is sometimes there can be a large group of many, many upperclassmen and you’re feeling just like a tiny freshman standing there at attention sweating trying to think quickly under pressure who is the highest ranking without looking at them. Remember, you are dragging and not allowed to look around anywhere but straight ahead, so you have to make do with what your peripheral vision allows your brain to comprehend. That can be stressful because if you mess up, which we often do the upperclassmen will get up in your face and yell at you ordering you to correct yourself. The most stressful event is coming across a mob of upperclassman who you do not know. The freshman will then have to ask each and every one of them what their name and rank is, then try to remember them all which sounding off in order from highest ranking to lowest. While this is a stressful for freshman as they begin their corps experience, it comes with I believe a good purpose and we take away something from
it. Sounding off instills an appreciation for military courtesies as that is the proper way to sound off to someone superior to you in the real military. I think the most important take away from the mental stress it can bring is for us to gain self-confidence. By using a loud, well-articulated voice like we are supposed to, it teaches us to be more comfortable when we are uncomfortable. Lastly, it helps us quickly learn and recognize upperclassman in the same company as me as well as more upperclassman in the corps. Being able to know the upperclassman that live nearby or on the same floor as you make things easier and you don’t dread as much having to step out into the hallway or upper quad. Again, to reiterate my point, that kind of mental stress placed on us is not necessarily a bad thing and can serve a purpose to make us better. We are not just freshman gazing at coeds, we are cadets walking with a certain set of rules making us more thoughtful with every step. We are intentional and purposeful.
A common counter-argument comes from a variety of people, concerned parents of freshman, people who quit the Corps of Cadets because they did not want to put up with the discipline, and the outside world being concerned about what goes on inside the life of a freshman cadet. They believe that this ‘hazing’ is too harsh, and things should be lightened up on the freshman. Yes, I agree hazing is a terrible thing and should not exist. I define hazing as unnecessary punishment that serves no purpose. Dragging or sounding off may seem unnecessary to an outsider who does not understand the reasoning behind the things we do here. There is a method to the madness. Also keep in mind the Corps is a voluntary organization and you should know before signing up your freshman year, let alone at any point in your time in The Corps of Cadets, will not be easy. In comparison to other Senior Military Colleges, more specifically comparing the VTCC to Virginia Military Institute (VMI), I believe we here at Tech have done a much better job of eliminating hazing from our program than VMI.
Stress in the right amount is good because it makes people better and more disciplined from it. Prior to a Freshmen selecting to attend any college, there should be a certain amount of diligence that goes into their research. If a Freshmen opts for a non-traditional route in college, an even further evaluation must take place. For instance, if a Freshman is considering playing a sport at a division one level or joining the corps, the freshman owes it to him/herself to fully understand what is involved and must fully weigh the pros and cons of such a decision. If an incoming freshman has done their diligence and fully believes in their decision, then they can submit themselves to the organization’s leadership and fully commit. As a Freshman, I believe in the corps leadership, and fully believe this experience will have its trials but this will be a positively life altering experience for me. The mental stress is controlled, not abused, and has already produced tremendous results. Despite the stress, I am having a better academic semester than any achieved in high school. I am bonding with my Company. I am staying away from the many temptations of any freshman away from home for the first time. Being in the corps is not easy or comfortable. However, it has often been said that life begins out of your comfort zone. I am out of my comfort zone, and I am performing at my best. Stress can be good.
To conclude my argument yes, the mental stress is really there for freshman cadets, but is in place for a good reason. All the tedious things we do have reason and purpose behind them. You need pressure to create diamonds. Like I said before, there is a method to the madness. Freshman year prepares us to not only become leaders in the Corps of Cadets, but also ethical and honorable leaders in the real world.
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