While the Regimental Review for Homecoming Weekend and the football game the following Saturday afternoon have always been mandatory for cadets, this was the first Homecoming at the Academy that meant anything to me. It seemed like everyone was excited to see their older brother or parent that weekend; the alumni parked literally everywhere on campus Friday morning, including outside of our windows in the quad. Classes and trainings continued as scheduled, with one modification for the Medallion Ceremony to be held in the late afternoon.
Every year the class celebrating their 50th reunion from the Academy is invited to return specially for participation in the Medallion Ceremony. The Commandant of the Coast Guard is aided by three cadets, from Delta Company (the best company), in honoring each alumni with a medallion around their neck as their name and highest rank attained is read off by a senior cadet in the gymnasium. Surrounding the alumni, who sit on the court, in the bleachers as a Corps of Cadets is a powerful atmosphere in itself, but not the most personal. For me to feel connected to the events of Homecoming I needed more.
This year after assisting the Color Guard present the colors at the Regimental Review and Medallion Ceremony, I headed down to the boathouse for crew practice. Being a Friday and pretty late already around 5 p.m., I decided to go out on the water as soon as possible. Without waiting for my teammates I paddled down to Jacob’s Rock, about 300 meters, in my single rowing shell. Not far from shore I could hear alumni joining the women’s soccer team on the field, saw the lights illuminating the football field, and again, found cars scattered in every possible place around campus. Yet, there I was alone on the water with what felt like no connection to any of those cars or people.
Listening to evening colors as the sun sets at both the Coast Guard Academy and Naval Sub Base New London on the water rowing back to the dock is always breathtaking. The sounds echo from both sides of the river and on a clear night, the complete silence when the music stops seems to linger just long enough. On this night, however, the puttering burp of an engine filled that silence, along with the brushing of oars other than my own against the dock. Catching the gaze of the five men sitting in the boat across the dock was just what I needed for Homecoming to mean something. The tired looks of men who wrestled with calculus, stood years of midwatch, and had time to start families stared at me, who at twenty was exhausted from a paddle. One of them asked if it was a good row. “Yes, the water was perfect” was my response.
At the end of this year’s Homecoming Weekend I chose to reflect on the exchange with an alumni crew who still mustered the energy for a row. There were many reminders that there are thousands who have graduated before us, who wear medallions, and observe colors. Being tired is not a valid excuse not to care. It is a reason to keep searching and eventually, somehow finding the perfect water.
More about Sarah.