This post was originally published in August 2015.
#1 Be Proud Now
You don’t have to wait for Rook Recognition, Junior Ring Ceremony, or graduation to be proud. Be proud now. Less than 1% of the American population serves in the U.S. Military. Even fewer college age kids across the country would ever consider challenging themselves with something like four years in the Norwich University Corps of Cadets. That’s a sign that your Cadet has some courage and you probably did something right in raising them.
But here’s the cool thing – the pride is cumulative. Making it through Rook Week is a big deal and you should be proud. But it’s nowhere near the pride you’ll feel when your Cadet calls you after slipping the Norwich ring onto their finger for the first time. Or the pride you’ll feel when they graduate and go on to accomplish extraordinary things in the real world – which, by the way, is the main point of the entire exercise.
There’s always a lot of talk about how much Norwich changes people but I think that misses the mark. Your Cadet will still be your kid. Norwich will just make them better – version 2.0, if you will.
#2 Let Them Fail
Your Cadet will go through some tough spots. They may fail a PT test or a class. They may try out for something and fail. They may shoot for Rook of the Month or compete for rank and come up empty. So what? It’s good training for the real world.
Don’t commiserate with them. Don’t let them make excuses about the less than ideal circumstances they had to work with. Telling them that things will get better is not realistic either. In the real world people have very little control over circumstances. Thankfully, we have complete control over ourselves so encourage them to suck it up and press onward. Everyone fails. What makes Norwich men and women different is we don’t curl up in the fetal position and cry about it. Nor do we blame others or make lame excuses. Just tell them to get up and keep fighting.
Success in the real world requires courage and grit. Your Cadet showed courage when they signed up. But courage without grit is like a rifle with no bullets – useless. And you don’t develop grit by winning all the time. You develop grit by getting kicked in the teeth repeatedly and getting back up every time. Tell them to push through the discomfort – whatever it is, it can’t last forever and they’ll come out stronger on the other side.
#3 Play the Long Game
The entire point of the Norwich experience is to graduate and go on to accomplish extraordinary things. Think of your Cadet’s four years on the Hill as earning their dues card. Once they graduate they’ll be in the club with access to all the benefits that come with membership. But those benefits won’t just show up on their doorstep. Make sure your Cadet knows that they have to make it happen. Don’t wait – encourage them to get involved and start developing a network now. They can do that by attending Alumni events on and off campus. Unfortunately, I don’t think networking skills are taught in high school and whether or not they get it at Norwich is hit or miss. So here are a few tips to pass on to your Cadet about how to make the most of a Norwich networking event:
- Don’t just stand there, texting with a drink in your hand. Put your smart phone away, shake hands, and look people in the eye. I know you’re a student. By definition that means you have no money, job, or influence. But you have something almost all of the grads in the room lack – youth and real time experience in the corps. That makes you somewhat unique. Be outgoing. Share positive news from the Hill (see next tip on negativity). When someone asks you what you want to do with your life – have a good answer.
- Don’t discount anybody. If you’re an electrical engineering major or a soon-to-be commissioned Army officer and end up standing next to the clam chowder talking to a gym teacher – keep in mind his Norwich roommate and lifelong friend might be a two star general or own an engineering firm.
- If you meet someone and have a meaningful conversation – ask for a card. If they don’t have one – ask for the best way to make contact and keep in touch. Trust me – unless you acted like a complete jackass – nobody will say no.
- Show Common Sense. Just because you’re in an elevator with someone doesn’t mean they want to hear your elevator speech. Yes, you should always have one prepared in case the obvious opportunity to give it arrives. But sometimes it’s better to be the young woman who politely interrupts, introduces herself, and asks for permission to make contact at a later date. “Mr. Buffum, I know you’re busy so I don’t want to ambush you. I have some ideas on how to pay off the national debt and bring lasting peace to the Israelis and Palestinians. Do you mind if I email you? May I have a card?” This shows respect for his time and makes you look cool while launching into your canned elevator speech might have made him pull the fire alarm.
- For God’s sake – follow-up. I’ve lost count of how many students/grads I’ve taken the time to speak with at events over the years. We chat. We laugh. We share stories. I know their name – they know mine. A year later they send me a LinkedIn request with no note. Seriously? A digital connection is not a relationship. The former is accomplished with a lazy click of the mouse, the latter requires time, effort, and nurturing. Put in the time and you’ll reap the rewards.
- After you meet someone wait a few days before sending them a VERY brief note. “It was a pleasure meeting you at the Norwich event and I enjoyed our conversation about vegan polar bears.” Keep it simple.
- Keep in touch by sending the occasional note. Again, keep it brief. “I came across this article on vegan polar bears and thought of you.”
- Consider offering something. “I’m on campus so let me know if you ever need anything from the Hill. Attached is a picture of my platoon receiving the most awesomest platoon in Norwich history award.”
- Now that you have made some effort and cultivated the relationship, if you ever need a favor (i.e. advice, an introduction, etc.) – go ahead and ask for it.
- Be worthy. The ring and diploma get you a seat at the table but there are no guarantees. You need to earn it. Be the kind of person I could recommend and not lay awake at night wondering if you’re going to do something stupid and embarrass me. I’m fully capable of doing that on my own.
Okay. Back on topic with tip #4 for Norwich Parents…
#4 Ignore the Negativity
Ever get that feeling that your Cadet loves Norwich but acts like he hates it at the same time? Good – that means they’ve found their tribe. When Norwich grads get together, one question lingers in the air like fog over the Dog River – will they drink, lock arms, and sing Norwich Forever? Or will there be a full-scale riot? Honestly, it’s usually a coin toss.
Norwich grads are a very diverse group but we do have a few things in common. For example, most of us go nuts for the Hogan’s Heroes theme. Additionally, each grad knows beyond the shadow of a doubt that their Rookdom was harder than anyone else’s (which is ridiculous because everyone knows that the class of 1993 had the toughest Rookdom in Norwich history). Finally, we are steeped in tradition and therefore resistant to change…any change.
But here’s the thing – if you look closely at any two decades in Norwich history you’ll see stark differences. Actually, I’ll double-down on that point – if you look at any two years within the same decade you’ll still see stark differences. Change is constant. Change is good. Change is what Alden Partridge would have wanted. He founded the school and said, “Go make leaders, patriots, citizen soldiers.” He never said we had to do it the same way forever. I enjoyed my time on the hill from ’89-’93 (which, by the way, included the toughest Rookdom in Norwich history), but the Norwich of 1993 wouldn’t have prepared grads for the world of 2015. Change is necessary.
Unfortunately, even the slightest change on the Hill is akin to starting a Holy War with Norwich alums. This is not new. Cadets and grads alike have been screaming bloody murder that the Corps is going to Hell in a handbasket since Alden Partridge passed the torch to Truman Bishop Ransom (see next tip on Norwich history if you don’t know who these two distinguished gentlemen were). As a consequence, you can find a lot of negative online comments from my beloved brothers and sisters – take them all with a grain of salt. In our defense, the whole negativity thing isn’t unique to Norwich – it’s an internet thing.
The ultimate test of whether or not Norwich is still doing its job of creating leaders and citizen soldiers is the performance of its grads in the field. We’ve got more cops, fireman, nurses, and emergency medical professionals than you can shake a stick at. Our men and women have also spearheaded the “War on Terror” for almost fifteen years – and the feedback is nothing short of spectacular. Norwich boots were on the ground for the battle of Tora Bora, Operation Anaconda, the killing of Osama Bin Laden, and countless others missions. Partridge would be proud.
#5 Celebrate Norwich History
I am not an historian. I was a very late bloomer with history and writing. Encourage your Cadet not to squander their time on the Hill like most of us did. Instead, take advantage of the never-ending opportunities to learn about Norwich history.
Your Cadet is stressed out. Classes. Exams. Corps responsibilities. But time flies. Tell them how lucky they are to be there. Remind them that they are just as important as any other link in the historical chain. Suggest they stop and read the plaques on the walls. Pick a name from the Harmon Memorial Wall and learn that person’s story. Or choose a significant event in American history and look for the Norwich connection – trust me, it’s there.
Norwich is good at a lot of things but tooting its own horn and honoring its history are not among them. That means we have to do our own digging. Here are some resources:
- The official history of the university by William Arba Ellis is free and open source (Dry but comprehensive).
- The Norwich University Archives and Special Collections (aka Disneyland for Norwich fanatics).
- Mining For Old is the official blog of the Norwich University Archives (a great blog that not enough people read).
- The Sullivan Museum and History Center (nice facility, able staff, all the good stuff is underground and well protected).
- My books: Norwich Matters is for Corps affiliated folks only, Norwich Heroes is for everyone. (Kindle, iBooks, & Nook only. Paperbacks are sold out.)
I hope some of this helps. – Randall H. Miller ’93