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US Naval Academy Students Climb Slippery Monument

Plebes form a human pyramid to climb the Herndon Monument at the U.S. Naval Academy in 2012.
U.S. Naval Academy Students Climb Slippery Monument
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This is What’s Trending Today.

Many American universities have special traditions for students during graduation week – usually the last week in the month of May. Most of the traditions involve the students who are about to graduate.

For example, one tradition at the United States Military Academy – known as West Point – involves giving money to the student who places last in the graduating class. That student gets one dollar from every classmate. The award adds up to be about $1,000. It is meant to honor the hard work of that student.

Another military academy, however, may have the most physically difficult tradition of all. And it is not for its graduates. Instead, it involves first-year students.

Plebes climb the grease-covered Herndon Monument on the United States Naval Academy campus in 2012.
Plebes climb the grease-covered Herndon Monument on the United States Naval Academy campus in 2012.

The U.S. Naval Academy is in Annapolis, Maryland. Every year during graduation week, its first-year students must complete a difficult task in order to advance to the next year. They must find a way to climb up a tall monument. It is about 6.5 meters high. At the top is a hat traditionally worn by new students at the academy, called plebes. The students must replace that hat with one worn by older academy students.

To make things even more difficult, older students cover the monument in grease. That makes the tower difficult to hold onto and climb.

A close shot of the grease-covered monument the U.S. Naval Academy plebes climbed on Monday.
A close shot of the grease-covered monument the U.S. Naval Academy plebes climbed on Monday.

The Washington Post newspaper covered this year’s Naval Academy event on Facebook Live. The video has been viewed more than 2 million times. More than 13,000 people wrote comments about the video.

People who watched the live stream saw hundreds of students run to the monument, take off their shirts and try to rub the grease off of the monument.

As the plebes tried to climb the tower, older students at the academy sprayed them with water.

The students tried to build a so-called human pyramid to try to reach the top of the monument. The first student to reach the top could then replace the hat.

The Naval Academy’s legend is that the student who is the first to replace the hat will be the first from the class to reach the rank of admiral in the Navy.

Many who watched the Facebook Live video had questions about the event. One former Naval Academy student even left a comment. He described to viewers what it was like when he climbed the tower.

When he did it, he said, the base of the tower was flooded and turned muddy.

David Newell is from Canada. He wrote on Facebook that he had been watching the live video for over two hours. “What a great example of young people working together for a common goal,” he wrote.

Last year, the students completed the task in about 72 minutes. On Monday, it took them almost two times as long.

After the students finally finished, one viewer commented: “that was worth every minute.”

And that’s What’s Trending Today.

I’m Dan Friedell.

Dan Friedell wrote this story for VOA Learning English based on a story and video by the Washington Post. Ashley Thompson was the editor.

Do you think you and your friends could reach the top of the monument? We want to know. Write to us in the Comments Section or on our Facebook page.


Words in This Story

graduationn. the act of receiving a diploma or degree from a school, college, or university : the act of graduating

pleben. a student in the first year at a military or naval school

greasen. an oily substance

spray – v. to flow out in a stream of very small drops

task – n. a piece of work that has been given to someone : a job for someone to do

legend – n. a story from the past that is believed by many people but cannot be proved to be true

admiral – n. a high-ranking officer in the navy