The past year's cheating scandal has been such a trying time at the U.S. Naval Academy that Graduation and Commissioning Week comes as much-needed relief. The six-day extravaganza of pomp and circumstance, dances and concerts starts tomorrow in Annapolis with a colors ceremony and ends Wednesday with the swearing-in of graduating officers.
Traditionally, this is one of the busiest weeks of the year in Annapolis. Thousands of friends and relatives, along with crowds of other visitors, descend on the town and its narrow streets. Numerous traffic restrictions are in full force.
The congestion is made worse by construction around the Naval Academy, which impedes traffic flow and parking even in ordinary times. A free shuttle service between Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium and the academy should alleviate some of the problems.
Although construction on the sprawling academy campus -- 338 acres in all, one-third of it reclaimed from the Severn River -- would suggest a growing institution, the opposite is true.
As a result of the end of the Cold War, all the services are shrinking. This means fewer commissions for the graduating officers in the Navy and the U.S. Marine Corps. Instead, many may have to fulfill their six-year duty obligations primarily in the Reserves. The sizes of future classes will be noticeably smaller.
Downsizing the academy will be one of the tough responsibilities of Adm. Charles R. Larson, who will succeed Rear Adm. Thomas C. Lynch as the superintendent next month. The Naval Academy is headed for a period of major changes, many of which may be wrenching.
There are things that do not change, though. Such as taking Herndon.
No one seems quite sure how the tradition started, but the plebe class climbing Herndon Monument has become a key event of the graduating week. The monument is first greased with 200 pounds of lard. The plebe who first gets to the top will get a set of admiral's shoulder boards.
The Class of '72 is the current record holder. Its Larry Fanning did the climb in 1 minute, 30 seconds. In contrast, the Class of '88 had to struggle with the challenge for 3 hours, 12 minutes.
As plebes, the current graduating class did the climb twice four years ago. They took the paper cup down but forgot to put the garrison cap on top.
An omen of sorts?