Much about the Naval Academy has remained the same since its founding in 1845 by Secretary of the Navy George Bancroft.
The school still occupies a picturesque place on the banks of the Severn River in Annapolis. The midshipmen still wear crisp white uniforms and are required to serve at least five years in the Navy or Marine Corps after they graduate.
"The mission of the Naval Academy is to develop midshipmen morally, mentally and physically to become future combat leaders of character," said Cmdr. Rod Gibbons, academy spokesman.
As the world has changed, however, so has the academy.
Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, security has been much tighter on the 388-acre campus. The academy also has been directly affected by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where many of its graduates are serving.
This year, the academy will graduate 200 Marines, the largest number since the Vietnam War. Those students, in addition to the 251 assigned to surface warfare, could soon see combat.
Military experts suggest that because the wars loom so large over the academy -- which has lost 10 graduates in action over the past three years -- interest in the prestigious school has declined.
For the Class of 2009, applications fell 20 percent compared with the year before, a drop mirrored at the nation's other military colleges.
Dean of Admissions David A. Vetter said the quality of applicants remains strong and that despite the downward trend, applications remain significantly higher than they were in the years before Sept. 11.
"We are not concerned," said Vetter, noting that the Class of 2008 attracted more than 14,425 applicants, the highest number in 12 years.
Once accepted to the academy, the midshipmen enter into four rigorous years. Life at the school begins with plebe summer, a punishing, seven-week conditioning period aimed at preparing students for a military education.
That education is not one of relaxing, partying and sleeping in. A typical weekday begins at 5:30 a.m. with an optional workout, followed by a 6:30 a.m. wakeup call. The remainder of the day is filled with back-to-back classes, meals, sports and study hall. At midnight, Mids are required to turn out the lights.
The academy's 4,000 Mids sleep in Bancroft Hall, a dorm so large that it has its own ZIP code. The dorm, which can be visited by tourists, offers a peek into daily life at the school.
Despite increased security, anyone can visit the academy between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. daily by entering with photo identification through one of its three gates. These gates have long been guarded by Marines, but sometime this year, the Marines will be replaced by other security employees under a Pentagon plan aimed at freeing more troops for active duty.
The academy's campus is steeped in history. A must-see is the crypt of naval hero John Paul Jones, which is beneath the academy's chapel. This year, however, visitors will have to wait until the fall to see the crypt, which is undergoing its first large-scale renovation -- a $700,000 cleaning and lighting project.
Another popular attraction is the academy's museum, which houses a naval heritage collection of model ships and large oil paintings. To pay tribute to fallen graduates, pay a visit to Memorial Hall. Inside Bancroft Hall, the stately room is filled with plaques engraved with the names of the more than 3,477 graduates of the Annapolis military college who have been killed in action since the Civil War.
On May 27, the academy -- under the leadership of Vice Adm. Rodney P. Rempt, superintendent since 2003 -- will graduate a class of more than 1,000 Mids that includes three Rhodes scholars. This year's commencement speaker is President Bush. In keeping with tradition, Bush's commencement addresses have rotated among the military service academies.
Information about the Naval Academy, visit these Web sites:
The school: www.usna.edu
The visitor center: www. navyonline.com