It's almost 1:30 PM, and the United States Naval Academy freshmen, known as "plebes," begin the 80-year-old tradition of climbing the Herndon Monument, a 21-foot obelisk at the center of campus. Its granite surface is covered completely in lard. Some plebes have already ripped off their freshly bleached T-shirts, while others are taking selfies with family members, who have come to watch. Their mission is simple: to replace the plebe "dixie cup" with a Midshipman's cap as fast as possible.
The Herndon Climb is considered the capstone of their hellacious "plebe" year at the academy, the country's prestigious training ground for Navy and Marine Corps officers. Freshmen must demonstrate teamwork, communication, and strategy to accomplish this goal. After successfully completing the climb, the freshmen are no longer called plebes. They become "fourth class midshipmen." This year, after two hours, nine minutes, and 35 seconds, they were "plebes no more."