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Service worthy of pride


September 21, 2007

What is the purpose of an education? And more specifically, an elite education?

I ask this question in light of an editorial written by a young college student attending Columbia University (my alma mater) and published in the Columbia Spectator, the college newspaper. I encourage you to read it at

I had to respond to this piece because, well, I graduated from Columbia and happen to be a military spouse, and because I disagree with it wholeheartedly.

The piece is titled “The Truth About the Academies”. The young woman who wrote it talks about her brother’s choice to go to the Naval Academy. She explains that after looking at the course catalogue and learning about classes, “The reality of sending my brother to the Naval Academy began to set in: this was not a school; this was the military. While they boast a first class education, the main goal of this institution was to get my brother combat ready.”

No kidding! This is exactly what military academies will do; provide a first class education combined with readiness, practicality, a sense of honor and respect for country and others, and most importantly they teach young men and women the meaning of sacrifice. She apparently even tried to get her brother out of his commitment — apparently without his consent — and was shocked to get a chilly reception from a probably equally shocked recruiter.

The writer concludes by saying that her brother decided to stay at the Academy and that for her it was very hard to accept, though she, “must allow him to pursue whatever path he is drawn toward,” and warns others interested in the academies: “However, for anyone else out there considering a career in the academy, let it be known: the U.S. Naval Academy is not an elite college; it is first and foremost a branch of the U.S. military and the prestige comes at a big price — it taxes parents, siblings, and participants if they do not understand what they were signing up for.”

I go back to my initial question, what is the purpose of an elite education? Isn’t it to give students a first class education, so that they may go out into the world and choose a path they can be proud of?

How many young men and women are as proud, mature and dedicated as the graduates of the military academies? Not that many.

I am discouraged to think that this woman and many others see personal sacrifice as an unworthy cause, or perhaps more simply prefer to avoid problems in their own back yard. To her, getting a college education seems to be worthy of praise if the goal is to make money, get a “good” job, have fun, travel and see the world, not have a worry in sight.

I personally believe that regardless of the education received or the type of institution attended, there is no higher goal and success than being part of the military.

One more thing — my husband, the guy who is fighting for his country, well he graduated from Harvard and joined the military even after having received such an elite education. And while he’s proud of what he accomplished academically, he’ll be the first to tell you that’s nothing compared to the pride of being in the military.


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