When I first matriculated this fall, on August 15, 2015, I never would have imagined exactly what was waiting for me. It was a challenge that seemed so long, and yet so short all at the same time. It was a task which seemed insurmountable at first, and yet, now I smile and realize I made it. It's a weird sense of accomplishment to have. But I know I owe it to my classmates who helped get me here.
From the time we matriculated, there were 239 days before we were recognized. And in those 239 days, I have learned and grown. I may not have been spoiled, but I certainly took things for granted. 239 days taught me to cherish what I have, because I can always be in a worse situation. It taught me to lean on my friends, especially here, because through these days I have made 29 friendships that will last a lifetime. It has taught me that regardless of my skill, my smarts and my power, I cannot do everything on my own. I must lean on my friends and my classmates, because only together can we make it through. And all of these things can be found in one day, on April 9, 2016, exactly 239 days after I matriculated.
It may seem like an ordinary Saturday to most, and for most college students, by the time they got up for the day, my day had already started and changed. For 239 days I have braced, and popped off, and walked a regulated pace of 120 paces (and admittedly a bit more if I was feeling motivated that day), whenever outside my battalion. I have obeyed the rules and regulations set for me, but on April 9, that changed. On that day, Recognition Day, my classmates and I were put through the rigorous Gauntlet, a graduation of sorts from our knob year, into being simple freshmen.
We did not do this alone: our upperclassmen, our leaders and guidance, helping us along the way. I challenge you to find one picture on that day where there is not a single upperclassman in the picture. I will tell you now you cannot find it. The Class of 2019 survived the Gauntlet, and I will happily tell you that was the proudest moment of my life. On that day we cried, we laughed and we poured our blood, sweat and tears into those final moments of being a knob. Because in that moment we are together, regardless of if you were a "good knob" or not, regardless of if you have disagreements with your classmates. In those hours before our recognition, we gave our all, because we had each other. More than that, however, we had our upperclassmen encouraging us, helping us up, participating in every exercise, every station. They were the ones who made sure we got through this day.
And to finish it, the Class of 2019 did one Victory Lap around campus, before returning to their battalions. What I remember as most important is not the field, though I will treasure that time with my classmates without a doubt; it is not the final run, or the push-ups at the end. It is crawling to the guidon, It is wrapping my hand around the base of that guidon, pulling myself across the quad, and knowing that all of my classmates, every single one, was by my side.
We may have been tired, we may have been sweaty and nasty, and I may or may not have had enough dirt in my pants to fill my boots (trust me, seal crawls are very good at doing that), but as I clenched my fingers around that polished wood, with heated hands and exhausted panting, I knew we were united, if only for a moment. I remember looking at one of my classmates, mashed under another, and smiling. And the only words we exchanged were, "We made it." And we both smiled, and I laughed.
239 days. A challenge that if you asked me to do again, I would. Without a moment's hesitation, I would. Give me my classmates, and my upperclassmen and I would go through that whole ordeal over and over again. Without fail, I would. The bonds that those days have forged between my classmates and I is one that has been tested, has been strained some days when tempers run high, but I know they are my true friends.
I have gained much in those 239 days. I have learned the value of honor, and the need for loyalty, discipline and to be ready to endure hardship, and suffer if need be. I have learned that whatever pain I feel today is the strength I will gain tomorrow. I have learned that no matter how difficult it seems, your classmates, your friends, your brothers and sisters—especially mine—will always be there to pull me through, and I them. I will never forget the struggles I experienced on April 9, 2016, but even more so, I will never forget the feeling of pride, and love I had for my classmates on that day either. On that day, I learned the true meaning of friendship, camaraderie and loyalty. Given the chance, I would take a bullet for those friends. And I wouldn't hesitate. That's the power of that day.
When I matriculated, I was a weird kid who made a handful of friends, and likely only three good ones that would stick with me in the bunch. Now, 239 days later, I have a total of 30, 29 being my classmates and one being my wonderful amazing girlfriend who supported me through it all. I may not be the strongest or the brightest of them all, but I know I have my classmates. And because of that, I have nothing to fear.
So thank you to those friends. Thank you for getting me through these 239 days that sucked so bad—some that I hated with all my guts—but would do again in a heartbeat as long as I had you guys to do it with. Thanks.
That is what knob year has brought me. Thirty friends, tried and true, who won't abandon me or sell me out. They are there for me. Every time it sucks, they're there. Good times and bad times. I know if I trip and fall, they'll be there to pull me up, regardless of how bad a fall it is.
So what has your freshman year gotten you?