The Herndon Monument Climb: A Testament to the Unique Legacies of Maryland's Naval Academy Midshipmen

May 22, 2023

In Maryland, every person carries a unique legacy that transcends beyond their assets. It can be found in their stories, their experiences, and the impact they leave on their communities. This legacy is particularly evident among the plebes (freshmen) of the United States Naval Academy, who recently undertook the iconic annual Herndon Monument climb, a rite of passage marking the culmination of their first year.

The Rite of Passage: The Herndon Monument Climb

The Herndon Monument Climb is a longstanding tradition in which plebes work together to scale a 21-foot granite obelisk covered in vegetable shortening. This year, the midshipmen from the 17th Company, winners of the grueling 14-hour Sea Trials, had the honor of initiating the climb. Their strategy was to wipe off the shortening and form a human pyramid, with the more substantial individuals at the bottom and the smaller ones at the top.

The challenge? To replace the “Dixie cup” hat at the top of the monument with an upperclassman's hat or “cover.” Despite a careful strategy, the task took the plebes 2 hours and 31 minutes to complete. This year, Midshipman Chris Paris of the 28th Company had the honor of placing the cover at the monument's summit.

The Herndon Monument climb serves as a testament to the midshipmen's perseverance and resilience. It’s these shared experiences, as academy superintendent Vice Adm. Sean Buck noted, that bind the midshipmen together, generation after generation.

The Legacy Beyond the Climb

Every midshipman's journey up the Herndon Monument signifies not only their unique challenges and accomplishments but also their shared legacy as part of the Naval Academy. This legacy goes far beyond their physical endurance and academic achievements. It is rooted in the richness of their stories, the lessons learned, and the bonds formed during their time at the academy.

Take Midshipman Ryan Flaherty of the 11th company, for example. His parents, Tom and Judy have visited Annapolis more than six times since Ryan was inducted into the academy. They note that Ryan had always enjoyed a challenge, a trait that has undoubtedly helped him navigate his first year at the academy. The Herndon Monument climb was another challenge he looked forward to overcoming.

The Herndon Monument Climb is more than just a tradition; it's a symbol of the unique legacy each midshipman carries. The individuals who undertake this climb each year embody a shared heritage, yet each one contributes their distinct stories and experiences. Their time at the Naval Academy, encapsulated in challenges such as the Herndon Monument climb, helps shape their legacy, which they carry with them long after they graduate. Indeed, in Maryland, one's legacy is often found not just in tangible assets, but in the wealth of their life story.

Reference: " How do you climb a 21-foot granite obelisk covered in vegetable shortening? Carefully." - The Baltimore Banner.

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