Aglow With Pride

After Seeing Their Plebe Offspring For The First Time In 6 Weeks, Parental Spoiling Is Understandable

August 08, 2009|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,

Kathryn Boganowski and her daughter, Grace, made a pact six weeks ago when it was time to say goodbye: no tears.

The truth was, both felt nervous and scared about Grace Boganowski's matriculation from Towson High School to plebe summer at the U.S. Naval Academy. But aside from some quivering of the lips, they refused to break down in front of one another that July morning.

On Friday, Boganowski stood on her tip-toes, probing a long line of midshipmen - each ramrod straight and clad in pristine white - for any sign of her girl. When Grace Boganowski broke from the column, her mother dropped all pretense of reserve, beaming and weeping simultaneously.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in Saturday's edition misspelled the last name of a U.S. Naval Academy plebe and her mother. The name should have been spelled Bojanowski.
The Baltimore Sun regrets the error.

Grace Boganowski had not only survived a sprained ankle, a stomach bug and dawn-to-dusk days of marching, running and swimming. She spoke confidently of knowing why she was at the academy. "I was iffy about it," she said. "But now I know I want to learn to follow people, and then to lead people."

If Induction Day is the occasion for plebes to be overwhelmed at the gravity of their college commitment, parents weekend is their first chance to breathe out and appreciate how far they have come. It's a time to eat restaurant food after too many meals in the mess hall, to nap in the afternoon after too many pre-dawn wake-ups.

"You really learn to appreciate simple things," said Grace Boganowski.

For her mother, it was a chance to see that her daughter really was OK, to spoil her a little bit and to take pride in her resilience.

"You're just so grateful that they've made it this far," she said.

Parents weekend is a familiar event at college campuses across the country, but at the academy, it's a heightened experience. When plebes show up for Induction Day, they give up their hair styles, their cell phones and most of their connections to the outside world. They can call home once every two weeks and jot quick letters, but that's it.

Six weeks later, they emerge as different people - more fit, more polite and more aware of what they can endure. When parents see these revamped versions of their teenagers, they can't contain the proud tears and grins.

A collective whoop went up Friday as the plebes broke their noon formation and streamed through the campus' central courtyard to find their families.

Seven-year-old Isaiah Hood scampered about, waiting for his brother, Christopher, to emerge. The little boy had "Go Navy" shaved in one side of his hair and "2013" shaved in the other, an homage to his brother's class. His mother, Sia Hood, seemed just as eager.

"It was just hard, not having contact, not knowing every single day that he was OK," said Springfield, Mass., native.

Hood's father, Andre, kept a sterner facade. The former Marine just wanted to see Christopher without the scraggly facial hair he had nurtured through his senior year in high school.

"We noticed on the first phone call, he already had changed to 'Yes, sir' and 'No, ma'am,' " Andre Hood said. "I had been trying to get him to do that for years. I think this was exactly the transformation he needed to become a man."

Grace Boganowski wasn't necessarily looking to be transformed. The academy recruited her to play lacrosse, but she worried about her fitness heading into plebe summer.

"She never wants to disappoint anyone," her mother said. "So it was important to her to be a strong member of her squad."

Boganowski grinned at the memory of her first day, how impossible it seemed to hold her Reef Points, the academy's pocket guide to naval jargon, at a perfect 90-degree angle.

"People are yelling at you and you think it's the hardest thing you'll ever do," she said.

She worried about her mother, who cried all the way home after dropping her off. So in her almost-daily letters, she kept a sense of humor.

After her mother saw a picture of her on crutches, trying to keep up with the squad's march, Grace Boganowski wrote that she was part of "the gimp squad." Another time, she wrote about a mouse that had scampered across her desk, christening him Angus.

She wrote about how much she liked hefting logs and crawling through mud. "She sounded happy," her mother said. "And so it was like, 'OK, she's gonna make it.' "

As they planned their weekend (movies, junk food and a 20-minute shower topped the wish list for the plebe), Kathryn Boganowski suggested that her daughter grab more casual clothes. No, Grace Boganowski said, she'd stick with her uniform.

"I look really good in it," she told her mother.

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