Naval Academy plebes see families for first time since induction day
By ANGELA ROBERTS | The Capital, Annapolis, Md. | Published: August 10, 2019
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (Tribune News Service) — Close to 2,000 midshipmen gathered Friday under the midday sun, snapped to attention in front of Bancroft Hall for the daily formation before lunch.
A sprawling crowd of about 3,000 pushed forward to watch the students go through a series of commands. Kids scrambled up on the shoulders of their parents, and adults jumped up and down to see over the heads in front of them.
A hush fell over the audience during the drill — then, a roar of applause and cheers broke out as the midshipmen fell out of formation and scattered into the waiting crowd, walking quickly and dodging families as their eyes scanned the group.
It was the first time the plebes were seeing their families since they dropped them off for Induction Day on June 27, and emotions were running high. Some students gripped their parents in tight hugs and cried, while others joyfully laughed with siblings and old friends.
Vice Adm. Sean Buck, the Naval Academy’s new superintendent, didn’t see the reunion Friday but he met parents Thursday night.
He fondly recalls his parents’ visit during the first summer he spent at the academy. He had gotten close with his roommate, and their families spent the weekend together, visiting restaurants and sailing.
“I have seen a lot of joy in the moms’ and dads’ faces today,” he said. “They’re just beaming. And that’s the pride they have in their young sons or daughters that are here.”
As the plebes flowed into the crowd, Regina Hollier stood on a bench, waving excitedly to get the attention of her grandson, Sethan Hollier. She and her daughter, Hanni Hollier, wrapped him in big hugs.
The closer the day came, the more Regina said her stomach tightened in anticipation. Regina, who flew in from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, called it the “good kind of nervous.”
Sethan thought carefully before summing up his feelings in a few words: “I would say this is definitely the best thing all plebe summer,” he said.
Farther down the path, Bryan and Sue Williams wielded their iPhones and surrounded their son, Nate Williams, snapping photos of him from all angles. That summer, Nate had tied with another midshipman in holding a plank for 47 minutes, and his parents were bursting with excitement.
“I couldn’t feel my legs,” Nate said, to the laughter of his family. “My roommate had to take my shoes off.”
The Navy runs in the Williams family’s blood: Bryan graduated from the academy in 1992, and his dad graduated in 1961. And does he remember his own plebe summer?
“Of course,” he said, laughing. “You try to block it out, but it’s still there somewhere.”
Almost as fast as the midshipmen tracked down their parents in the throng, they were gone. The academy would be a ghost town this weekend, Buck said — for three days, plebes were free to leave its grounds to be with their families.
But one family lingered in the shade, as the crowd filtered away. Jeanne and Dan Sullivan’s faces were still a bit wet from their reunion with their daughter, Elizabeth Sullivan.
“It feels wonderful,” Jeanne said, her voice a bit croaky with tears.
Elizabeth is one of six kids — her older sister is also at the academy — and with her gone for the summer, her parents said it felt like there was something missing.
“She takes up an awful lot of room in our heart and in our home,” Jeanne said.
It was hard for Dan to find words to describe the day, and all the anticipation that came with it. Sure, you could see pictures and watch videos of reunions, but it just isn’t the same as experiencing it firsthand.
“It’s a great day,” he summed up.