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The Road Less Traveled

Citadel graduate, Jennifer Beare, gives a glimpse of her experience as a Citadel cadet.

What percentage of the Citadel Corp of Cadets is made up by
women? 

The Corp of Cadets is only about 8% women, but that number continues to grow each year. I was the only female studying finance in my class, and the first ever woman to graduate with a B.S. in Finance from the Corps of Cadets.

What made you decide to attend The Citadel? Was it a long-held goal or plan of yours? Or was it more of an unexpected choice?

Attending The Citadel was an unexpected choice. I transferred to the Citadel from the College of Charleston. This is practically unheard of, and I’m certain I'm one of the only ones who’s ever done it ... leave my cushy apartment, relaxing walks to class, and life free of curfews. I’ll tell you why I did it.

My parents separated toward the end of high school, and life became exceedingly tumultuous. My anxiety rose, and my self esteem dropped. My previously stellar grades began to slip. I felt lost, without purpose. With that, I began looking for a change, my first stop being the U.S Navy recruiting office, where I was accepted into their Nuclear Power program. During the month prior to bootcamp, I was studying in Daniel Library on The Citadel’s campus with a friend who asked why I'd enlist instead of applying to The Citadel. So, on a whim, I applied. Four days before I was supposed to ship off to bootcamp, I received my acceptance letter. I had a choice to make, and I chose the road less traveled.

What were the most challenging aspects of your time there? The most
rewarding?

The challenges felt endless while being there but looking back, I have an appreciation for all of them. Almost every challenge evolved into something rewarding. There are challenges predetermined by the institution all four years as a cadet. Freshman year is when you go through the “fourth class system," - nine months of constant exhaustion and hard work. It’s when you experience things like “hell week,” bracing, shining brass and shoes, memorizing facts about the institution, countless pushups, etc. – all alongside your schoolwork. Nothing compares to the day when you hear the bagpipes play and the words “the fourth-class system is no longer in effect.” Finally, being recognized as a member of the Corps of
Cadets.

There were also social, mental, and physical challenges that weren't intentional or
school-organized. Living in a small room with a roommate, surrounded by 500 of your classmates day in and day out in the barracks is no easy task. There’s never a disconnect from your work as both cadet and student. But it absolutely reaps benefits, forcing you to focus and remain totally disciplined. This stretched me far beyond my comfort zone, but I learned to appreciate the chaos of daily life and was rewarded with lifelong memories. Cadets learn to lean on each other, sharing the good and the bad, navigating four years of ruthlessly high expectations, together. Love them or hate them, your classmates are like family by the time you graduate.

How did being a woman impact or affect your time at The Citadel?

Being a woman at The Citadel comes with its own set of challenges. However, the strength and confidence I gained greatly outweigh any negative experiences. A woman's time at The Citadel is always going to be inherently different than a man’s, but not necessarily more difficult. This isn't because of any bias or discrimination, but simply because we face different obstacles naturally. Women are held to the same standards as the men on campus, though we face different challenges ... and they’re not ones that many would be willing to face all the way through.

Mine was the last class of women required to cut all of their hair off upon matriculation, but the men also had their heads shaved. The treatment was equal, but many women might scoff at the idea of cutting all of their hair off. I think this is because, for most women, it’s not "just hair," it’s part of your identity, your femininity. We also couldn’t wear cosmetics as a freshman and we put on the same uniform as our male classmates each day. So, all aspects of your feminine identity are stripped away and it forces you to come to terms with who you are as a person outside of that. As a result, my self-confidence had never been higher. I felt comfortable in my own skin, and that’s something I feel most young women really struggle with. That experience, redefining my own feminine identity, is not a struggle my male classmates faced – and that’s okay! They faced plenty of their own challenges during their time as cadets, to which we as women can’t relate. Everyone who has ever been a part of the Corps of Cadets has faced their own set of obstacles but have always been held to the same standards at the end of the day.

How did your time at The Citadel shape you? What lessons did you learn? 

The Citadel taught me more in four years than I ever thought possible. There are
the lessons that encompassed our Core Values of Honor, Duty, and Respect – but also lessons in discipline, leadership, perseverance, and empathy. I'm not the same person I was five years ago when I first walked through those gates. Upon graduation, I reflected on how I had changed as a person. How making my bed every day, ironing a uniform, waking up at dawn, leading others and being led all shaped me. I learned that you can push yourself beyond what you think you're capable of - that you can be firm in your goals and beliefs. There is always opportunity to better yourself and those around you.

What are you up to now, about a year after graduating? Do you feel your time as a cadet prepared you well for the rest of your life?

This last year has been a whirlwind. Soon after graduation, my fiancé (also a Citadel graduate) and I moved to Fort Benning, GA so he could begin his career as a U.S Army 2nd Lieutenant. I also started my job as a consultant with Deloitte Tax in Atlanta. A few months later, we found ourselves packing up our lives again to move to Fort Polk, LA . We just bought our first home and live with our two dogs.

My time as a cadet most certainly prepared me for life beyond the gates of The Citadel. People often ask if I'd do it again and honestly, I would without question - over and over again. It was four years of both joy and pain, but I would expect nothing less of “the road less traveled” and it truly made all the difference. The days were long, but the years
were short. The lessons were invaluable and will guide me through life both personally and professionally. I'll never forget my time on The Citadel’s campus, and I am beyond proud and honored to be a part of the Long Grey Line.

I had a choice to make, and I chose the road less traveled.