Summer Traditions at the Naval Academy.

5 Naval Academy Summer Traditions. 

By Byron Chen

The beginning of summer marks the end of the school year at the United States Naval Academy. As a former midshipman, this time of year brings back many fond memories. Each year is the end of a rite of passage and movement forward toward greater responsibilities, more freedom, and one step closer to commissioning day.

This time of year is rife with many traditions. Here are some of my favorites:

1. Climbing Herndon. Herndon is a 21-foot obelisk, shaped like a slightly stubby Washington Monument that is near the center of the grounds of the Naval Academy. At the end of the year it is slathered in grease and the graduating plebes (freshmen), attempt to race to the top by climbing on each others' shoulders.

The goal is to remove the dixie cup (the cover worn by plebes) on top and replace it with an upperclassmen cover. This officially marks the end of the plebe year. This was my second happiest day at the Academy after graduation.

2. “Dunking” the upperclassmen. As the last of many parades end during the final week of school, the Firsties (or Seniors), have to be wary. Some will get picked off on their walk back to the dorms by a rambunctious group of underclassmen, who will then carry them off to be thrown into some pool of water.

Originally, this would be the Severn River, next to which the Naval Academy lies, but I believe that midshipmen have refrained from throwing anyone into the Severn many years ago after a tragedy where one person drowned.

In fact, this whole practice may be frowned upon by the administration, but through my years there, I still remember seeing many trudge back to the dorms in soaking wet parade uniforms. There are quite a few fountains on base, after all.

3. Dipping my class ring. The Ring Dance is a special formal event held for the Second Classmen (Juniors) at the end of the year. It’s much a like a very formal version of a prom. At this dance, the midshipmen officially receive their class rings, and a part of the ceremony is dipping it into a bowl filled with water collected from the seven seas. 
It is after this that they can officially wear their rings, and are one year closer to commissioning.

4. Kicking off my shoes in the final parade. Here is another tradition that I remember being discouraged by the leadership of the school at the time. Many a Firstie will partake in this slight bit of insubordination during their last parade, with some hilarious results. As the brigade of midshipmen marches by the crowds in the reviewing stands, shoes will start popping off into the air, knocking off covers and falling under the oncoming feet of the formation.

It’s one of those situations where “they can’t catch us all.” The crowds will often storm the field after the last company has left, to collect these shoes for themselves, although I wouldn’t recommend it — some of these shoes are four years old!

5. Throwing our caps into the air. The tradition of tossing graduation caps is believed to have started at the Naval Academy in 1912. Once the new graduates have their officer’s uniforms, there is no more need for their old midshipmen cover. The class president will lead a cheer that ends with hundreds of these caps flying into the air.

The kids in the crowd are allowed to collect a cover for themselves after the ceremonies and midshipmen will often leave pictures of themselves and their names in the covers so that the kids know who the original wearer was. 

Traditions are a strong part of every military organization. Some of it reminds us of the legacy we are a part of, and others are just shenanigans. Each builds on the bit of history that these young men and women are a part of, and will continue to make. - Byron Chen

Byron Chen hosts a podcast and writes over at, a resource site he founded for veterans and service members. He interviews amazing people to pass along their lessons learned to help others achieve success after the military. Guests have included CEO’s, authors, entrepreneurs, and other successful veterans covering topics like interviewing skills, salary negotiation, and entrepreneurship. Prior to this, Byron was a Captain in the United States Marine Corps and a graduate of the United States Naval Academy.