The Road Less Traveled

[army guys] You are given 90 seconds to say goodbye to your family. Feeling nervous and anxious, you are taken to a backstage theater. You see four tables and are told to form two lines besides each one.  On top of the tables are orange luggage tags with pens arranged in a triangle beneath them.  You are told that you have 30 seconds to write your name on the tag, tie it back onto your bag, and arrange everything back in its original placement. Then, you are taken outside and lined up once again.  You are told to get on a bus, sit forward, and not speak to anyone.
Kids, you aren’t in Michigan anymore.  You have just arrived at West Point Military Academy.
Most “regular” college students know little about the military way of life. Many wonder whether West Point is for educating future members of the Army, Navy, or Air Force. It’s the Army. And it’s nothing like Michigan State.
Typical School Day
Unlike the majority of Spartans, who enjoy a leisurely summer with time to work, go on vacation, and hang out with friends, cadets are only given a three week break.  Once these three weeks are up, cadets return to West Point for a grueling six weeks of basic training before school begins. But there is no “welcome week” for them. Waking up at approximately 6:00 a.m. every morning and attending a mandatory 6:55 a.m. breakfast, cadets endure long days with class, extracurriculars, athletics and studying. Lunch is also mandatory, with the entire core of cadets eating at noon.   At night, students return to their barracks to finish up the evening with tons of studying and cleaning.  When “taps” plays, they must hit the hay. 
Weekends
[road2] Ahhhh the sweet, sweet weekend! From Friday (maybe even Thursday) until Sunday, MSU students roam the city of East Lansing and do what they please.  They party, study, sleep in, go out to eat, and hang out with friends to fill up their free time.  A West Point weekend typically consists of watching movies, catching up on homework and studying, ordering pizza and hanging out with others from your company.  As freshmen, students have an 11:30 p.m. curfew on Friday nights and a 1 a.m. curfew on Saturday nights.  Sophomores through seniors are allowed to leave for the weekend, only after obtaining proper permission from their commanders.  If they stay at West Point and decide to leave for the evening, they are expected back in their rooms by 1 a.m. And no drinking, except for juniors and seniors who are of legal age.
If a freshman or sophomore is caught drinking, they will get a minimum of 80 hours and room restriction. Hours? Room restriction? Most of us have never heard these terms before. Imagine only being allowed out of your room for class, meals and the occassional potty break. This can last from a week to a month, depending on how bad your infraction is. Hours, on the other hand, are much worse. Hours consist of dressing in full uniform and walking back and forth within the “walk area” for the designated number of hours appropriate for your punishment. If you are caught drinking, for example, any free time you have as a cadet will be spent fulfilling your walking hours. And you thought MIPs were a pain.
The hardest part of being at West Point, according to sophomore cadet Brandon Eccles, is the grueling schedule of work, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with little time for relaxation. “When you put in five days of hard work and all you want to do is go out and have fun, you have to get up Saturday morning and do a parade and have an inspection,” he said. “It really ruins the weekend.  There is no time to unwind, except on Sunday, but on Sunday, you have to do homework for the next week.”
Military Criteria
West Point is not only known for excellent academics, but for military criteria as well.  While we at MSU clean our rooms as we please, cadets at West Point are given room inspections every day to test their time management and conduct, as well as their obedience concerning direct orders. Everything from a clean floor, a wrinkle-free bed, to closet hangers suspended at the correct angle, to having clean mirrors and sinks, no dust on the shelves, and proper placement of bed and dressers all must be perfect.  If their rooms do not meet criteria, cadets will endure a verbal beating. If this occurred here at MSU, there would be constant yelling, all day, every day.
Football Saturdays
At 7:00 a.m., most of MSU’s campus is already awake and tailgating. The campus is known to get wild before home games, with much drinking and many barbecues. While the majority of students attend football games, we are not required to do so.  At West Point, the entire core of cadets is required to attend football games in uniform.  Tailgating only occurs after the games and, as you can imagine, is very orderly and calm.  Drinking is restricted to those who are over 21, and a designated area is assigned for those who wish to drink.
Graduation
When MSU students graduate, they go forth in life in whichever way they please.  Whether it be pursuing a job, or going to graduate school, we have the power of choosing what we will do professionally. USMA cadets must fulfill at least five years of service in the military after graduation.  Also, they do not only graduate with a degree, but with a new title: second lieutenant.  West Point graduates are looked upon with significant honor and prestige, as the four years spent there are very trying and difficult.  They pride themselves on outstanding academics and military skills.
So kids, MSU or West Point?  I am very happy with my choice being at Michigan State, as I am sure most are.  However, when sophomore cadet Philip Cooper was asked why he still wants to be at West Point, despite all the trials and hardships he faces daily, he declared: “Why do I want to be here? The military is part of my family history. It’s an excellent education and the experiences I’ve had here and the friends I’ve made are priceless, not to mention the fact that I don’t want to watch while Americans die in war. I want to help fight to keep America protected.”

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