Pressing on...


CDR Mike Weaver
Deputy Commandant for the 1st Battalion of the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets

In the early hours of a recent Saturday morning, twelve school buses arrived along the side of a back road in rural Virginia that sits close to the former home of Virginia Tech’s first student, Addison Caldwell. Once the buses came to a stop, a flurry of students, clad in camouflage field uniforms, stepped off and prepared themselves for the long journey ahead. Departing from the Caldwell Homestead, Virginia Tech’s newest class of cadets embarked on a 13-mile hike that day, loosely tracing the first half of a journey undertaken by that first student over 125 years ago. This “Caldwell March,” marked the end of their initial phase of training and the turning point for their recognition as full members of the Corps of Cadets.

The hike isn’t terribly difficult; most of the route follows paved roads and fire trails, with the exception of one very steep incline up a ridge on the Appalachian Trail and some bushwhacking down the other side of the mountain. But, it is a very long and tiring journey, and the pace is very quick. At the tail end of the hike, as the cadets turned the corner around a forest road and caught a glimpse of the buses waiting to drive them back to campus, one could sense the surge of energy and excitement among the cadets that overcame the exhaustion and fatigue from the day’s long hike.

The Caldwell March is a rather recent tradition for the corps. Cadets are surprised to learn that the tradition did not exist when I was a cadet here (in the late 1980s). It is an important milestone that marks a shift in training and teaches an important lesson in endurance. There may be times in our lives when we are tempted to give up, to walk away, to turn around and go home. When we’ve been journeying for a long time and still discover that we’ve got a mountain to climb, it’s easy to get discouraged and try to find another easier way.

Challenges like these, which our students face frequently, provide an opportunity for our students to learn more about themselves, about what they truly value, and about what motivates them to take the next step, even when they know the journey is long and difficult. I think it’s safe to say that many of our students will never face the pressing, gut-wrenching moral decisions that often bring about deep self-reflection. More often, students are tempted in the small things, the mini-decisions, and the small steps that either move them forward on the journey or take them down a lesser, perhaps easier, path. 

When those challenges come, it helps to have others on the journey to offer words of encouragement and support. That’s why building community is so important – whether in living learning communities, residence hall councils, or cadet regiments. The more that our students are connected with others who face those sometimes small, sometimes difficult, challenges, the more likely they are to stay on pace and stay on the trail. It’s harder to turn around when everyone else is pressing on. That’s the positive face of peer pressure.



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