Naval Academy Herndon Monument Initiation

My father, Brian, recalls an initiation ceremony he learned from the upperclassmen at Annapolis Naval Academy. He was 18 attending school in Annapolis, Maryland, when he experienced this activity forced on Freshman finishing their first year.

Brian recalls, “At the end of freshman year, and the beginning of the grad week ceremonies, the senior class would – well, the Herndon Monument is like a small version of the Washington monument. And the senior class covers it in grease and then they put a small sailors cap at the top of the monument. And the freshman class has to get the cap off the top of the monument. They have to build sort of a human pyramid, they have to get five or six levels high. They have to use teamwork to get the hat down. It usually takes a couple of hours. I think the fastest it’s been done is an hour and five minutes, and once they get the hat down, that’s the end of being a Phebe, a freshman, who has to do a lot of extra work, be uncomfortable, being harassed, its like the end of their hard times.” The fact that this ceremony is performed at the end of the freshman’s first year is significant, they should have learned how to work as a team by then, and getting the cap should be easy. This freshman ceremony seems to be more about hoping they achieve their goal than humiliating them for sport, which perhaps is why it seems to be a less resented ceremony (the fact that it signifies the end of freshman duties must also be a sweet victory).

When I asked my dad what he thought about the ceremony, he said, “It’s a really fond memory, it adds a sense of finality to a long arduous journey.” I can’t imagine interpreting it any differently, the relief of knowing your worst year is over must be sweet.