The important thing my class reunion reminded me of…
Caution: There is a lot of Navy talk in this article!
Last week, I joined 186 of my classmates from the Naval Academy as we celebrated the anniversary of our commissioning. Like most events happening with large groups of people right now, our class organizers held it as a virtual meeting so everyone could talk at the same time, see what everyone looked like (names on the profiles helped a lot!) and find each other. This was a reunion like many…filled with laughter and excitement. That said, I dare to say that this reunion was not your average roster. I’m grateful to have shared a classroom with some of today’s brightest and best leaders. These are people who are continuing to make an incredible impact each day.
What have I learned from my peers?
Leaders step up and serve.
Leaders are our anchors and they continue to serve. It’s the way they are wired. Our class leadership has continued to serve us throughout these past 33 years. (Yes, I have a hard time with that math, too.) These men and women are our anchors. They have reliably coordinated class gatherings, passed information, and held us together through their communication and continuous efforts.
They are the first to share details about our classmate and astronaut Sunita Williams’ safe return to earth. They tell us when Admiral John Polowczyk is going to be sharing the podium with President Trump and Vice President Pence discussing the logistics efforts of the COVID-19 Task Force. They tell us when David Robinson, our first “Admiral” is going to be featured on ESPN.
Leaders help other people be more successful.
Our anchors last week, Kirk Benson and Jim Matheson, coordinated our virtual program which included a conversation with the Naval Academy Superintendent, Vice Admiral Sean Buck. They structured and organized the schedule, which included official parts of the program as well as scheduling time to put us into virtual breakout rooms to help us connect on a deeper level. Through their efforts, we all had a great experience. They made the event, and us, successful.
Especially important on this Memorial Day, our anchors also keep track of us – their people. They also let us know when one of the class has died. My class has lost 39. At each reunion, they’ve created a meaningful memorial that we watch to remember those we have lost.
It reminded me that during times of crisis, change, and challenges, we need each other even more. Just having a group of friends you know you can count on, talk to, and brainstorm with is invaluable. Sadly, not everyone has that kind of support.
Leaders are strong so that they don’t let other people down.
One of the requirements as a “Plebe” (what we call freshmen at the Naval Academy) is to memorize Navy history, traditions, and quotes. This information and our responses become so ingrained that even 33 years later, we all remember. One of the requirements is to memorize the first 10 stanzas of The Laws of the Navy, written by Admiral Ronald Hopgood when he was a British Naval Lieutenant in 1896.
The first stanza is:
Now these are laws of the Navy,
Unwritten and varied they be;
And he that is wise will observe them,
Going down in his ship to the sea;
A few stanzas later, we are reminded that we are all only as good as the weakest link in the chain. One of our training officers repeated this over and over. We had to be strong so that we didn’t let other people down. We had to work hard, be smart, and make good decisions, because failure affects everyone. It was made clear that we did not want to be that weak link.
On the strength of one link in the cable,
Dependeth the might of the chain,
Who knows when thou mayest be tested?
So live that thou bearest the strain!
Some people feel that if they are the weak link, they might be letting someone else down. They might be disappointing them. Their self-worth may be low, or they may be experiencing doubts or concerns.
Leaders realize that they need to communicate, offer assistance, and be even more available to help others in a crisis than in normal circumstances. As leaders, it is not just a responsibility, it is a privilege to help. It is an honor to be a trusted confident, a supportive advisor, and reliable friend.
As leaders, we need to be aware of the warning signs that indicate that some people might be struggling more than others. Instead of asking vague questions like, “How are you?” try asking questions that give you a more accurate measure of how someone else is coping.
“On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being fantastic, how are you doing today? How is your family doing?” If someone who is usually between an 8-10 is suddenly a 2 or a 3 or even a 6, it may be time to step in with support.
Leaders realize the needs of others and they step in to help.
When classmate Scott Herbener found out about Objective Zero, the top suicide prevention, wellness, peer-to-peer support, and mental health app for military veterans, he found a way to bring the class together to raise awareness and money at the same time. He designed USNA ’87 face masks in our school colors. Who can resist that? It is a great cause and has raised a good deal of money.
Scott is a great reminder that leaders step up when there is a need. They find a way to help others, even when they are busy managing their own jobs and families and communities.
At a time when people need security, safety, and assurance, leaders show up to help every link in the chain.
True leaders are anchors and they help every link in the chain.
On this Memorial Day, we remember those who served, and those we lost.
There is a wonderful organization called Memorial Day Flowers that puts flowers on military graves on Memorial Day.
This year, due to COVID-19 restrictions, MDFF is prevented from many of their planned activities. There will still be flowers to honor and remember, but at a social distance. MDFF created this video to remind others to do the same, and some of my classmates are included.
This year, I am especially grateful for people who step up, for people who are watching out for other people, and for those who serve as anchors. I am grateful to have been a part of my graduating class and a member of the Navy!