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West Point stu­dents | Army.mil

Hillsdale stu­dents of all stripes agree: we didn’t choose the easy road. You go home over break and your friends at state schools com­plain about dif­ficult classes or tough human­ities pro­fessors, and the voice in your head — however small — says, “Sure, but not Hillsdale tough.” When they com­plain about the weather, you think of neg­ative-30-degree wind­chill and your dri­veway that still looks like an outdoor hockey rink in March, and you laugh.

Over Christmas break, my family was having lunch with some new friends. The oldest son, a junior at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, didn’t say any­thing when I made some off-hand comment about Hillsdale being hard, but I could’ve kicked myself a few moments later when he described the physical stan­dards, the aca­demic rigor, and the rituals and pro­tocols of being a mid­shipman-in-training. As a first-year, he had to yell his rank, serial number, and request per­mission to pass every time he rounded a certain corner. Classes are tough and physical stan­dards are high, but in addition to all this, sailors are held to exacting stan­dards in their appearance and are rou­tinely hazed by older stu­dents. They must carry them­selves with prestige and earn the honor of the title of the United States Navy.

But it wasn’t the dif­fi­culty of the Naval Academy that struck me: having applied to be a Marine Officer Can­didate last year, I knew in a small way what mil­itary rigor could look like, and I had learned very quickly that the mental obstacle is easily the biggest one to be con­quered in becoming any kind of soldier. I didn’t make it to Officer Can­didate School because of hearing loss, but if I had, would I have had the mental toughness to com­plete the two six-week cycles? I don’t know. But this young man, who was maybe a year older than me, had been doing it for over two years. And there I was, com­plaining about writing papers.

One of our closest family friends is a West Point graduate and a Colonel in the United States Army Reserves. When he describes returning to school when he was our age, he talks about “the Gloom”: the feeling of impending doom that hangs over every student on the bus ride from the airport and gets heavier the closer he gets to mis­erably cold, wet, West Point, New York.

It’s not a question of thriving in classes or becoming best friends with room­mates that con­cerns most of these guys, it’s making good grades even when they’ve been on duty out in the freezing rain all night before the test. It’s getting good marks despite playing some pretty auda­cious pranks, because there’s not much else to do for fun. (We com­plain that the closest Target is an hour-long drive away, but wouldn’t it be worse to have limits on when we’re allowed to leave campus at all?)

This is not to diminish the dif­fi­culty of Hillsdale. It’s also not to say that harder school is better school. What young men and women are put through at the mil­itary acad­emies and training pro­grams per­forms a spe­cific purpose — to prepare its stu­dents for war — which a liberal arts school isn’t and shouldn’t be trying to perform. But it serves as a reminder that, though we endure dif­fi­culty, we are not unique in our struggle. There are some stu­dents whose lives are easier, but there are some whose are much harder, and it would be laughable to suggest oth­erwise.

Next time you want to com­plain about the mis­erable weather in Michigan, remember that you don’t have to stand outside in it for several hours, drilling or patrolling or doing a cadence run. If you’re tempted to whine about how hard it is bal­ancing work and classes, remember that you’re not also required to yell out your name and class status and “request per­mission to pass, sir!” every time you get to Jitters Coffee in Lane Hall. Instead of thinking about how “hard” you have it, rejoice in the chal­lenge — or as they say in the Marine Corps, “embrace the suck.”

Carmel Kookogey is a sophomore studying Pol­itics and is a George Wash­ington Fellow.