Cadet Basic Training and Survival Swim are not courses typically found in a Haverford application.
But, for Maurice Rippel ‘19, they were just a part of everyday college life before Haverford.
Rippel, 20, transferred to Haverford in the fall of 2015 after spending his freshman year at The United States Military Academy at West Point. Though no one in his family is affiliated with the military, Rippel was drawn to the academy by its storied legacy.
“I’ve always been a bit of a history buff,” said Rippel, who grew up in Southwest Philadelphia. “When I was little I read about guys who had graduated from [West Point] like Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee—they pretty much settled my choice for me.”
During his senior year of high school, Rippel applied to multiple schools including Haverford through the Questbridge Program. After being rejected by Haverford but accepted by West Point, Rippel began to research the academy in more depth.
In exchange for an active service duty obligation following graduation, West Point guarantees full tuition for every student. This, as well as the structure and discipline emphasized in the school’s curriculum, also contributed to Rippel’s decision to enroll.
“I knew that it was a place that prided itself on cultivating leaders,” said Rippel. “I wanted to be a leader.”
Leadership is one of many values that West Point instills in its students. All students–more commonly referred to as “cadets”–consult the academy’s handbook for matters including how to salute various officers, when to eat meals, and how to carry one’s weapons. Respect for upperclassmen and officers is paramount, and freshmen, called “plebes,” live with further restrictions.
“Plebes are not allowed to talk to anyone in the halls,” explained Rippel. “Plebes also have chores, so ‘down time’ isn’t necessarily ‘down time.’ ”
The introduction to West Point is also demanding. Called “beast”–because it is “one hell of a rough summer,” according to Rippel–Cadet Basic Training requires incoming freshmen to arrive on campus seven weeks before school starts. Freshmen are then shuttled back and forth between main campus and the fields, during which they rappel down 100-foot cliffs, simulate live fire, and get to know fellow members of their 1,200-person class.
The training culminates in a long march back to campus after spending five days straight in the fields, all while carrying heavy packs.
“It is like the worst summer of your life in some ways and the best summer of your life in other ways,” laughed Rippel.
Like Haverford, the academy also requires cadets to adhere to an Honor Code throughout their four years of schooling. The Code in its entirety states that cadets will not “lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do.” Punishments are harsh for those who violate the Code—or for those who are late to class.
“You cannot be late to class,” emphasized Rippel. “You are always supposed to arrive before your teachers and, if you don’t, you are most likely assigned ‘walking hours.’ ”
If one is assigned walking hours, he or she must dress up in uniform, hold a rifle in upright position, and walk back and forth across a courtyard for as long as instructed. Cadets who complete over 100 hours of walking before graduation are known as “Century Men.”
Though this rigidity is partially what compelled Rippel to attend West Point, it is also what ultimately drew him to consider transferring. Though he liked the routine of many aspects of West Point life—such as waking up at the same time every morning for physical training—there were too many mandatory components involved in his education.
“It is definitely a great school in terms of academics, but I never really got that “fit” that I wanted,” noted Rippel, who also mentioned that he had “revolving beliefs” about the military.
“During my time there, I reevaluated what I needed at school and what I thought I could give at school. I knew early on that I wanted to be a writer, which I thought Haverford could foster better than West Point could.”
Indeed, since coming to Haverford, Rippel has taken more humanities classes and is currently thinking about declaring an English major. Because not all of his West Point classes transferred to Haverford credits, Rippel enrolled as a freshman.
“I was really attracted to the Customs Program when I first visited Haverford, so I was happy that I got to experience that,” said Rippel, who lives in Barclay. “I love my Customs team–they’ve really helped me adjust.”
Rippel also noted that he appreciates the availability of professors at Haverford.
“I like how open people are here,” said Rippel. “At West Point there wasn’t really time to get to know your professors, and they didn’t share much of their personal lives at all.”
Another key difference in curriculum between West Point and Haverford is the manner of instruction. Professors at West Point teach using the “Thayer Method,” which was established by Sylvanus Thayer during his tenure as the academy’s superintendent. This system requires students to learn subject material outside of class and to bring questions to discuss in small groups during class.
However, Rippel also said that there are similarities between the schools.
“What I like about the people I’ve stayed in touch with from West Point is what I like about people here,” said Rippel. “Everyone is passionate about what they do.”
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