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The Ride is Just as Fun as the Finish

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Jasmine Rodriguez

My prep school was Marion Military Institute in Alabama. It was very secluded and provided challenging chemistry and physics classes, which actually prepared me for sophomore year academics here at the Academy. It also provided a good transition into Academy-style scheduling. I spent a lot of time working out, some of it mandatory at 400 a.m. and most of it on my own time in the indoor pool, doing intercompany sports, running around trails, or hiking in Birmingham.

Academy life is incredibly challenging the first year. Between squaring, bracing, and freezing to death half the year, it's hard to stay positive sometimes. If you come here with solid tunnel vision on the long-term goal and a positive attitude, though, you'll do better than survive ‒ you'll thrive. We have a beautiful campus with amazing resources I would not have found at any other civilian or military college. The classes are small, the staff truly care about your success and, at the end of a semester, you feel proud and accomplished. As far as sacrifices, your liberty time is heavily restricted the first two years. You cannot have a car or drive within a 100-mile radius until senior year without permission, but you don't really need one since we have the free liberty buses. You have specific uniforms to wear on liberty the first two years, but we get the privilege of civilian attire junior and senior year. As someone who had a few jobs, then worked in the fleet for a year and a half, and experienced prep school (and its variation of leniency), it can feel a little too tight here sometimes. Some of the rules might seem a little ridiculous or old-fashioned. Some of the restrictions might feel like you've gone back to living with your parents, like you can't be a real adult. It's all for a reason. I remind myself frequently that the program was originally created to graduate excellent military officers, and that eventually all this work will pay off.

I still enjoy my time as a cadet. There are hard days where too many assignments and military obligations are happening all at once, and then there are days where school is canceled because of snow and we all go out and play like we are in middle school. There are many extracurricular activities available at the Academy. For example, I got the opportunity to direct my first play here as a sophomore! Club leadership that early on is almost unheard of, and I received some backlash for it, but I love the performing arts. I collected a cast of peers and classmates, organized experienced cadets who had helped in the past, invited a local playwright to help critique, and pulled off a full three-act play in three and a half months. I also have a friend who started a basic car mechanics club so cadets would know how to change oil, tires, and jump-start a car by senior year. I have another friend who started a precision drill team and takes his team to events all over the state. This place imbues you with energy and makes you reach high above your original goals. Potential becomes kinetic here, and even though there are days that are extremely difficult, there are more days that make me feel like this is the best thing I could have done with my life. I have made very close friends that I will keep for the rest of my life, in my classmates and in my officer and enlisted mentors. I encourage anyone who is considering college and considering commissioning to take this challenge, prove themselves, and have fun along the way. There are more opportunities than ever within these walls, and the ride is just as fun as the finish.