ANNAPOLIS, MD – A well known ritual for the Navy had a little twist this time around!
For 70 years, students at the U.S. Naval Academy have scaled a 21-foot obelisk as celebration for completing their grueling first year. This time, however, there was no lard involved and students completed the task in minutes.
Herndon Monument has usually been slathered in the grease to make the event as challenging as possible. What appeared to be a simple task often took hours for a group of first-year students, or “plebes,” to hoist a peer on their shoulders to place an officer’s hat atop the obelisk.
This year’s ritual drew more attention after Vice Adm. Jeffrey Fowler, the academy’s superintendent, cited “unnecessary injury risk” as a reason the school could end the yearly ritual. He declined to offer a timetable for a decision that will likely rest with his successor.
“I just think at some point it will become not very interesting and it will just cease to be a climb,” Fowler told reporters earlier this month, adding that there have been minor injuries in the past.
Contrary to his belief, many students, parents and alumni find the tradition to be an endearing rite of passage.
On Monday, Midshipman Keegan Albi managed to grip the sides of the monument and shimmy his way to the top in just over two minutes after a human pyramid of classmates boosted him more than halfway up. As the ritual dictates, he snatched a first-year student’s cap from the top and replaced it with the officer’s hat.
“They should grease it, though, make it a lot harder,” Albi, of Eugene, Ore., said.
First-year students began the yearly ritual of helping classmates to the top of the obelisk in 1940, and added the symbolic placement of an officer’s cap on its tip seven years later, according to a history of the event by James Cheevers, a senior curator at the U.S. Naval Academy Museum. In 1949, upperclassmen began smearing on as much as 200 pounds of lard on the monument to increase the difficulty of the task.