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Taking Curiosity to New Elevations

May 1, 2013

I recently finished a 26 mile hike with the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets and it will forever be one of my best memories of working at VT.  The Caldwell March is in honor of Addison Caldwell who on October 1, 1872, walked from his home in Sinking Creek to Blacksburg to become the first registered student of Virginia Tech.

For the past dozen or so years the Corps of Cadets first year students have made this same trek in two 13 mile installments.  The first in the Fall represents the end of the Red phase of their training, while the second leg in the Spring completes the White phase which leads them to their final preparations to become sophomore cadets.

The first leg of this is hands down one of the most difficult, both physically and mentally, activities I have ever taken on.  To begin with, when we started, I was certainly not physically in shape for what lay ahead.  I had not gone walking for anything more than a stroll with the kids in more years than I can remember and the last hiking trip we took was only 2 miles a year earlier.  Couple this with the fact that I was at the front of the march with Commandant General Randy Fullhart and more than 500 cadets behind us…just a little motivation to keep going.  Fortunately, I had three new “civilian” friends who were on this same journey.

The march began at the CaldwellImage homestead at the very same place Addison started and his family still lives today.  It was great to see these folks come out and support this historical tradition, and along the way, many others came out of their homes to pay their respects, my favorite being a veteran who was waiting for us in a chair at the border of his farm and the entire staff of the Corps stopping to thank him and take a photo.

Together, we hiked 8 miles of a traditional road march in two hours.  When we got to the bottom of THE HILL the Commandant advised us to just grab our MRE’s and keep moving…he was right.  We spent the next hour going one mile up almost 1000 feet elevation through a cow pasture (complete with landmines…fortunately growing up on a farm, I was used to avoiding these).  As soon as we made it to the top of this grueling incline which included the last quarter mile of needing trees to pull ourselves up, the cadets were upon us having made the same hike in less than 30 minutes.  After a break that included military rations and hilarious skits from the cadets, we began our homemade journey down through the brush, which in many was was more challenging than the incline.  I’ll put it this way, I’m not convinced Addison was the first to make the hike, I just think he was the first to make it out.  We closed out the first leg with another 3 miles on the dirt roads before getting picked up and brought back to campus.

The second leg of the march was just a few weeks ago and after experiencing the first part, and now personally being 30lbs. lighter, was much less strenuous.  In many ways mentally I was far more prepared for this hike and the mile incline and 10 mile road march were much less overwhelming to me.  In the end, we finished at the VT campus and witnessed one of the most heart-touching ceremonies in which each and every Corps of Cadets member greets the first year students and welcome them to the ranks.  Every single upper class student, in uniform, goes around and shakes the hand of every student who just completed this journey.  There is no lack of respect among these students and they are an inspiration to all.

So why do I share this journey with you?  I recall a question my new Vice President for Student Affairs, Dr. Patty Perillo, asked of me when she met us at the finish: “so do you like to hike?”  My answer, with a laugh that gave my answer…”absolutely not.”  “Then why do this” she asked.  To which I replied, “because it’s the Corps and it’s a Virginia Tech tradition that I wouldn’t miss for the world.”  I can now say that I am one of the few “civilians” to complete this march and I hope and encourage many others to do so.

We in the VT Division of Student Affairs have five aspirations for student learning, one of which is curiosity.  For me personally, this journey challenged my own longing for life-long learning.  I wanted to not only  hear about, but I wanted to experience and really understand as much as I can, what these Corps of Cadets students go through.  This is only one snapshot in time, but I continue to learn more and more about this magnificent group rich with history tied to the foundation of Virginia Tech.

So what’s next for me?  Next up is the Corps of Cadets obstacle course and I’m considering an offer to attend an intensive 3-day Army training specifically designed to give faculty from college campuses an in-depth look at Army boot camp.  Regardless of what my next steps are, my profound respect for this group of staff and students will be held with my highest regards forever and I am proud to have shared in this experience with them.  I have some new very close friends as a result of this, who we can reminisce together about our journey and new colleagues across campus who I have a little better glimpse into their worlds.  Thank you for sharing with me.

What have you done to push your own curiosity to new limits?  If you haven’t done something yet, what is that one thing you’ve been wanting to do, but haven’t mustered up the courage to try out?  My challenge to you…just get out there and do it.  As a wise one once said “Do or Do not.  There is no Try” (thank you Yoda).

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