Next time you’re feeling down, rejected, insulted, made fun of, or generally upset in college, just remember: it could be worse. You could be a ‘Knob.’
A ‘Knob’ is a freshman at The Citadel, a conservative military academy located in Charleston, South Carolina (also known as the USA’s most beautiful city).
Every time a ‘Knob’ sees an upperclassmen, they have to tuck in their chin and shaved head until it becomes one with their neck, push out their hips, and arch their back with their hands at their sides. They must know their next three meals by heart, and can be interrupted at any time in the non-existent privacy of their tiny rooms in the barracks.
Life as a ‘Knob,’ said William Bennett, Secretary of Education under Ronald Reagan, in an address to the cadets, “makes you realize you aren’t as good as you thought you were, but that you can do better, more than you ever thought you could.”
I listened as he spoke as a representative of the Jepson School of Leadership Studies to the Principled Leadership Symposium at The Citadel.
Designed to strip freshman of their individuality, ‘Knob year’ aims to make students a seamless part of the greater group. They must know the name of every upperclassman, or risk punishments that include running around the perimeter of the four story fortress. Inside the barracks, a word from a ‘Knob’ is rarely heard.
My host takes me to their rooms, kicking in the door and berating them for clothes out of place, a slight failure of protocol.
He brings me back to his, where a sheetless cot and heavy quilt await me. I wake up early the next morning to shower alone before the one-room washroom fills up with cadets out of uniform.
I’ve never felt as far to the left as I did in Charleston.
Duty. Honor. Respect. That’s the motto of The Citadel. Having never been a part of army culture, I spent my first day of sessions, speeches, and panels quietly taking it in, feeling alternately uncomfortable in the extreme and utterly serene.
Back in the barracks, I bonded with my host over our love of country music and outdoor adventuring.
I’m sure I overcompensated in an effort to find common ground, but by the end of two-day trip, I was shocked how much common ground I found. Though we voted differently in the last election, I found a great deal in common between myself — born and raised in New York City — and the cadets of The Citadel.
We both hated unnecessary “pork” in the federal budget and felt that women weren’t treated right in our society in the slightest.
Above all, we both loved the idea of being left alone to live our lives. I tried hard to fit in with my curly hair amidst the shaven crop of our soon-to-be military officers, but I found myself surprisingly comfortable. I think we have a lot more in common than we think, but rarely take ourselves out of the comfort zone and take the time to sit down, talk for a while, and find out.
I think it’s worth a shot.
More photos from John’s Citadel visit are below:
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