Citadel's Learning Laboratory Builds Lifelong Leaders
CHARLESTON, S.C. -- The challenges that face Citadel cadets aren't easy, but the lessons learned stick with graduates long after they get their degrees thanks to the unique learning laboratory at The Military College of South Carolina.
On May 12, members of the Class of 2001 will get their diplomas, leaving behind the rigorous and regimented lifestyle that has consumed their lives since their freshman year began on a hot summer day in August 1997.
"During my four years here at The Citadel I was constantly told how much I would benefit from the lessons I have learned here and how they would set me apart from my college contemporaries," said First Battalion Commander Kevin Spellacy of Creve Coeur, Mo., near St. Louis.
"Like most college students, I simply dismissed it as people giving me some advice based on their experiences," he said. "However, after interviewing for jobs and seeing how interested and pleased companies were to hear of the lessons and experiences we have as cadets, it has become increasingly clear just how valuable these lessons are."
Spellacy is among The Citadel's top six ranking cadets, chosen at the end of their junior year for leadership positions because of exemplary military, academic and personal achievements. As these six cadets led the 1,800-member S.C. Corps of Cadets this year, each learned valuable, yet different, things from their experiences.
The Citadel, founded in 1842, is a coeducational military college that emphasizes a strict indoctrination for first-year students, called knobs because their shaved heads resemble doorknobs.
Cadets value that first year for the lessons in teamwork, self discipline and time management. The disciplined lifestyle binds cadets into a lifelong, close-knit camaraderie.
Said Regimental Commander Craig Wilson of the Minneapolis, Minn., suburb of Wayszata: "The Citadel has reinforced some of the most important lessons of life for me. There is no substitute for hard work, no one respects a leader who does not exceed the standards he sets for those in his command, and growth can be realized only through much pain and struggle."
Wilson will enter the elite Navy SEAL officer training program after graduation, while Spellacy plans to travel some before moving to Washington, D.C., where he will work as a business analyst on Central Intelligence Agency projects at American Management Systems.
Brandon Peak of Gastonia, N.C. said the opportunity to lead Second Battalion has been his most rewarding experience.
"It is a great feeling to see these cadets grow as individuals and even better to know that we will leave The Citadel in capable hands," Peak said.
After graduation he's off to Mercer University Law School on a full scholarship. To his successor, Peak has these words of wisdom to pass on:
"The opportunity to serve and lead others is one of the most rewarding and challenging experiences that you will ever have," he said. "Take it seriously because the decisions that you make could have a major impact on the course of someone's entire life. Always remember who you are, what you stand for and the difficult path that you traveled down to get where you are today."
Fourth Battalion Commander Scott Shelley of Hartsville, S.C., said a Citadel education has taught him valuable lessons about communication as well as leadership.
"The Citadel is so unique is because you can take all that you have learned and apply it to the rest of your lifein the everyday encounters with people," he said. "Without the ability to truly communicate with individualsno mission could ever fully be accomplished."
Cadet Mandy Garcia, the regimental executive officer and second in command of the Corps of Cadets, has had what is often referred to as "The Citadel experience" and then some. She is one of 10 women in the largest class of female cadets to graduate so far from The Citadel.
The Citadel began admitting women in 1996. The first woman to graduate was Nancy Mace in 1999. She graduated a year early. Petra Lovetinska graduated in 2000 after four years.
There are currently 81 women in the Corps of Cadets.
In the spotlight for much of her four years at The Citadel, Garcia -- the first female to earn an athletic scholarship and the college's first female cadet-student-athlete -- found that her most memorable experiences as a leader came from her mistakes, not her successes.
"From my mistakes I was able to better understand the structure that leadership challenges provide," the Fayetteville, N.C. native said. "Ultimately I was made a better leader by tripping over my own two feet but catching myself with my hands and standing back up to try again."
Garcia will enter the Air Force after graduation and become a pilot.
Cadet David Huffstetler, commander of Third Battalion, also will be commissioned into the Air Force. His Citadel experience has prepared him well to become a pilot, he said.
"I am not sure I can even name all of the ways that I will use what I have learned here," said Huffstetler, who is from Toledo, Ohio. "I think above all, though, the most important thing that I will use for the rest of my life is honor."
The Citadel Honor Code states a cadet does not lie, cheat or steal or tolerate those who do.
"There are lots of successful people who have gone far in their careers, but (they) do not have honor," Huffstetler said. "That is the advantage that Citadel graduates have; honor is something that is ingrained in you at this school."