The freshmen arrived at Alumni Hall early Thursday morning on a campus shuttle. Hugs were exchanged with family members. Some of the new students were buzzing with nervous energy.
In some ways, the balmy morning was a typical college drop-off scene: crying parents, eager freshmen and parents buying school merchandise.
The message on a T-shirt available in the campus store, however, set the record straight: "Not college."
Nearly 1,000 first-year entrants reported to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis on Thursday for Plebe Summer, the first part of their nine-year tenure in the armed service.
Plebe Summer is the six-week indoctrination that aims to prepare freshmen for their time at the academy. Through the program, they gain a basic understanding of military protocols, weaponry and seamanship, all while undergoing intense physical training, according to the academy's website.
"So being a midshipman, this is not a normal college experience," Induction Day Coordinator Lt. Nick Vandiver said. "The brigade of midshipmen takes pride in that. Today is one of the few days that they all share together."
As the plebes made the rounds, Capt. Luis Angel Gonzalez, the officer in charge of Plebe Summer, cited the increased racial, gender and socioeconomic diversity of the academy class as an asset..
"Now, when it comes down to being able to harness and put to better use the diversity that we have, it is a strength," he said. "
The academy received more than 14,700 applications for this year's cohort, with more than 4,000 women and 10,000 men applying. Only 1,184 students were admitted, with 532 being racial minorities.
Of the plebes, 813 men and 371 women make up the class of 2027.
The number of women in the military has remained low throughout history, with only 17.3% of active duty armed service members identifying as women in 2021, according to Department of Defense data.
At the academy, the number of women inductees has remained in the 300s in recent years, with the class of 2026 including 332 women inductees, and the class of 2025 having 348, according to academy data.
In April, the academy announced the appointment of Rear Adm. Yvette Davids, an academy alumni and career surface warfare officer, as superintendent. She is set to be the first woman to lead the academy and scheduled to begin her tenure sometime over the summer.
Gracie Emerick, 18, of Damascus, said it's "really cool" to see Davids step into the role. Emerick's mother, Jill Emerick, graduated from the academy in 1998 and has served in the Navy for 31 years.
"I'm really proud of how far we've come," Jill said. "Just coming back with her when she did her track recruit day or whatever, you could sense change on campus. And I was really proud to see that and having been in the Navy for the last 31 years."
While she acknowledges the change, Jill said there's still a long way to go.
Plebe Emily Collura, 19, of New York, said she doesn't view herself as a minority but is not ignorant of the fact men outnumber women in her class.
"I think it's important to keep your wits about you, but I think it's also important not to let what you think is holding you back actually hold you back," she said.
As the morning progressed, the first-year students began their induction, visiting various stations within Alumni Hall that include several medical exams, haircuts and uniform distribution.
In the satellite barber shop that's set up in a storage room within Alumni Hall, male plebes received buzz cuts, while women had the option of wearing a tight bun or getting a chin-length bob, known as the plebe chop.
The atmosphere at the barbershop was light. The buzz of the hair clippers helped drown out some of the chaos to come. The mostly silent plebes sat and watched their hair fall to the floor.
Plebe Soleil Lamar sat in one of the chairs with long, pin-straight hair. She said the decision to cut it to the plebe chop was a practical one. She doesn't want to worry about it while undergoing the notoriously rigorous Plebe Summer schedule.
"It will grow back," said Lamar, 17, of the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. commonwealth in the Pacific Ocean. "It's worth it."
When the barber showed her the hair she cut off, Lamar smiled and lightly chuckled.
The second the plebes walked out the barbershop doors, the calm energy dissipated once they faced older midshipmen, known as detailers.
"You are moving with intensity," one detailer yelled at a plebe walking to the changing area.
"Why are you walking so slow," another yelled.
The detailers followed the plebes through the rest of their processing, giving them instructions on how to wear their uniforms, hold their dixie cup hats and the proper way to address those in command, often through yelling. They got in the faces of the plebes.
Across from the barber shop, the plebes memorized their 300-page handbook, known as reef points. They must hold the book up to their eyes, keeping their elbows at a 90-degree angle. Eventually, an officer came and instructed them on how to salute, wear their caps and give a proper response. All this with the yelling of detailers in the background.
Once they finished, the plebes marched to Bancroft Hall to begin setting up their dormitories and preparing for their Oath of Office ceremony. Next they got one last chance to see their family until parents weekend on Aug. 10.
Outside, parents spread throughout the campus as they waited. Some took a walking tour of campus, while others set up lawn chairs under the trees that line the Alumni Hall lawn.
Fighting off tears, Jill Emerick said she's proud of her daughter and believes she can handle the chaos of plebe summer. As an alum, she was unsure of whether it was easier or harder to drop her daughter off at the academy, because she knows what to expect.
"I know there's gonna be a lot of sucky days and a lot of hard parts," she said. "But I know she's up to the challenge.
"Maybe it's just because I have memory loss and can't remember 31 years ago. But I feel like a little more anxious today than I felt in my own I-day."
Corinne Lusk of Dallas, Texas, dropped her youngest child Greg Johnson off Thursday morning. While emotional, she's hopeful for Greg's future.
"I think we're all very nervous about what that responsibility is gonna be for him after the four years that he's here," she said "But I mean, we're also happy that he's gonna be able to have an opportunity to serve our country."
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