Knowing What It Means to Belong

Friday, December 9th, 2011

Imagine being an Irish Catholic graduate of Penn State working for a large bank?! I am certain that we’ll endure these institutional failures of leadership; I only wish that the leaders of these institutions would be failed.

Tomorrow, my Naval Academy competes for its tenth consecutive win over the Army’s cadets of West Point. There will be a large gathering in Chapel Hill amongst the local alumni of both, er, institutions (that they are!). We’ll number about 250 representing graduating classes as far back as the 1940s. The chow is decent; the rivalry is good-hearted; we’ll collect a couple of thousand dollars for the local VA; we’ll be reminded that several who have shared such occasions with us are no longer with us. In the end, it’s a brotherhood, regardless of sex, of those who consciously or not, agreed to join something much larger than themselves. The players on the field embody what we hope are our better selves and best ambitions. We’ll be equally gratified by our implicit associations with those in the viewing stands, those afar watching from a tent or a mess-deck, those who have gone before and those who will follow.

My tennis partner’s son is in his first year at Annapolis. She and her Australian husband will attend the game in Washington, DC. She commented on the inconvenience of travel, the need to prepare for the holidays and the predicted cold weather at game-time. I offered that the game on the field is nearly secondary to pageantry and symbolism of the game in total. “Who knows?! The President might attend,” I murmured.

I believe that the best part of the game are those whom you see at the concession lines, roaming the stadium and in the stands. SEALs, Rangers, sailors, soldiers and Marines. Pilots, submariners, tank drivers, artillery officers, much decorated enlisted personnel. And we’re all – whether retiree, Academy grad or parent of a plebe – warmly affiliated with them all. It makes you feel good about them, yourself and all of us. They offer what is, indeed, the essence of leadership: inspiration to carry-on and to succeed amidst whatever genuine troubles and minor inconveniences lie ahead. Go Navy.