Sam Goodgame — a graduate of the Staples Class of 2007 — is a 3rd-year cadet at the United States Military Academy at West Point. He serves as president of the Black and Gold Leadership Forum, and deputy editor of the Undergraduate Journal of Social Sciences.
After hearing him talk — with other alums — to Staples students about college experiences, “06880” asked Sam to share his insights with a broader audience. Here’s what he wrote:
While walking through Staples in uniform, and speaking on behalf of the West Point admissions department, I feel the students’ respect and admiration for the institution that I represent.
But I also feel another vibe: one of detachment. Perhaps it’s best captured by a comment that my younger brother, a Staples junior, heard from a friend: something along the lines of “Hey man, no disrespect to your brother, but… why would anyone ever do that?”
The comment is representative of the way some in Westport – and Washington, D.C., and the Westside of Los Angeles – regard armed service. My parents have heard friends in each of those communities say, “I am so proud of Sam and what he’s doing. But I’m glad my kid isn’t doing that.”
We rarely hear that from a Texan or a Buckeye. Stroll around the campus of Ole Miss any day, and it looks like every 10th male student is clad in Army fatigues with an ROTC unit patch. Conversations with my classmates – who by law hail from every nook of the country – have revealed that students are more interested in service academies and the military generally (particularly anywhere that country music spans the airwaves).
Why is Fairfield County so different?
It doesn’t make sense to me. The values and goals of the people I know in Westport seem to me very close to those of West Point. Westport is a town of achievers and leaders, in fields from finance to the arts. It also has a strong ethic of service. Parents work long hours in the office, and still make time to coach youth sports, lead the PTA or operate a soup kitchen.
Staples is one of the best high schools in the country, preparing and inspiring hundreds of top students, leaders and athletes every year. That’s the cadet profile — yet very few apply to one of the military academies.
After 3 trips to Fairfield County to visit schools, guidance counselors, coaches and civic clubs, I have seen and heard fragments of an answer.
Some students and parents don’t know much about service academies: the quality of the education (Forbes magazine ranked West Point the top U.S. university last year); the chance to jump out of airplanes and rappel out of helicopters; the opportunity to learn leadership before practicing it as a commissioned officer. Some also don’t know how experience as an Army officer can help your civilian career.
I’m not ignoring the obvious: that joining the military has for the last decade entailed a trip or 3 to Iraq or Afghanistan. Clearly, that’s not on the to-do lists of most Westport teenagers, partly because these have been controversial wars.
But I’m still stumped.
I’m grateful for the fine job that Westport teachers and parents do teaching young people that freedom isn’t free. While I’m surprised that we don’t have more applicants to the service academies and the armed forces generally, I’m also optimistic. Several of my classmates (and faculty members) at Staples have recently served abroad, or are now serving. As they come home and talk about their experiences, I’m hopeful that others will be inspired to follow their example.
In the meantime, if you want to know more about West Point, please drop me a line: firstname.lastname@example.org.
(The views presented in this piece are the author’s alone; they in no way reflect the stance or policy of the U.S. Military Academy, Army, or government.)