Advice for Riverside Military Academy Cadets

Written June 25, 2013. Reposting on here from my now expired personal blog.

Toward the end of the year I began writing an extensive article on the issues and faults with Riverside. — I left no stone unturned in my pursuit of writing a blunt and honest article about Riverside. I was ranting and raving about the overwhelming ignorance of the student body, the childish behavior of some of the younger TAC officers, the lack of concern over the well being of the cadets, and the money-chasing mindset of the administration. I wanted to leave my mark on Riverside as the person who recognized the internal issues at Riverside and got the ball rolling on their solutions, but the minute I walked across that stage and received my diploma, I didn’t care anymore. I was done, I “served my sentence”. I no longer cared that the Commandant failed to deliver on multiple promises or that the Riverside technology system was terribly set up. The static nature of Riverside Military Academy was behind me and I knew where I was going (Cal Poly) so nothing mattered anymore. I was done.

It’s been two months since I stepped off campus of Riverside Military Academy. And while I am done with Riverside, I can’t help but feel like I have to share something about my experience. Last weekend I was talking with some friends and sharing my experiences at Riverside when one of my friends asked me, “Would you do it all over again?” I had to think about it for a while but finally replied “Yes”. Since being asked that question, my mind has been flowing with thoughts about Riverside that make me want to go back.

Despite all of the serious issues with Riverside, there is one constant that remains: I made some lifelong friends and made some amazing memories that I will never forget. Instead of writing about how:

  • Chief TAC told my Executive Officer that he did this job for the money. That the “TACS aren’t supposed to take care of the cadets, they are supposed to do their jobs”.
  • A teacher had to threaten to quit over an uncontrollable student in order for the administration to listen to him (but they still kept this student around)
  • The president is willing to put tens of thousands of dollars into the football program while the teachers don’t have money for basic lab equipment.

I’m going to share some advice I was given by a teacher and give you some perspective on being at Riverside. I’m going to tell you why Riverside was one of the best experiences of my life (so far).

I know that we hear all the time that “Riverside is good for you” and “you’ll be glad you were here when you leave”, but almost all of us never believe it. Hell, I sure didn’t. Even though I recognized that Riverside was going to help me get into college, I still hated being there and couldn’t wait to leave. Now that I’m official done with Riverside I can clearly reflect on my time there.

In my article on college admissions, “The Stanford Delusion” I write:

“It’s always funny when you go in a complete circle and find yourself recognizing the truth that you previously pushed to the side. Try to listen to others who try to give you advice. Always take it with a grain of salt, but recognize it and think about it. Otherwise you will waste hours of effort, stress yourself out, and be miserable until you come back around and acknowledge the truth that was there all along.”

To put this into context, when we are told that Riverside is good for us, most of us shrug it off and think of how much better life would be beyond the walls of Riverside. But we have to recognize what we are being told and think about it. When you really welcome this process (listening to advice even though it may not make sense at the time), you will find that some of the advice usually comes back around and proves to be true — this is what I call the critical moment (creative I know).

My “critical moment” came from the statement one of my teachers made to me mid-senior year. The advice that I was given came from Mr. Turner my CS3H teacher and mentor one day when he relayed what a previous student had said, “Riverside is one of the best times of your life — where and when else do you get to have a huge sleepover with dozens of your closest friends, every night?” And damn was he right. I didn’t agree at the time, but I did recognize it and think about it like you have to when you are given advice. Eventually it surfaced as the truth and I had my critical moment.

I still feel like I need to pass on some of my insight to the next generation of cadets in hopes of improving the Riverside experience. The previous student who made that statement had not written it down to share with future students, he said it casually in a conversation and it got passed on to me. I want to elaborate on this statement to encourage all of you who are still at Riverside to hang in there and make the most of it. It’s not as bad as it seems and when you graduate you want to be able to look back and smile at all of the fun you had at Riverside.

Fun? At Riverside? That may seem like an oxymoron but isn’t. I’m going to share only a few of my more memorable experiences at Riverside that I consider “fun”:

  • Going AWOL to go get food off campus. It was always a thrill because we didn’t know if we were going to get caught and we didn’t have to eat the mess hall food.
  • The mess hall was always great. Eating with your friends and always having something new to talk about whether it something that happened in class or random conversations about girls it was always an interesting experience. The best was breakfast on Monday morning when everyone had crazy weekend stories to tell. And of course 300+ guys in the mess hall is always a recipe for something interesting (cup dropping anyone?)
  • Setting up a multimedia center in my room and playing Xbox or watching movies during GSA and Study Hours. This always included pretending like we were doing something productive.
  • When the internet was restricted my first year, a few of us snuck into the tech room and rewired the internet to give our Ethernet ports unrestricted access.
  • When they shut that (^) off junior year and gave us Ethernet ports in the phone room, Reid Schwartz and I routed a 100ft long cable through the wall and a room to get to his room so we could have unrestricted internet in the room (and play Xbox live).
  • When we got our stuff taken away, Reid and I had to sneak into the TAC office (distracting Cpl. Gibson) and taking our stuff back.
  • Going out on weekends with friends from Riverside and coming back with some wild stories to tell everyone else. (Like going AWOL to see movies on Saturday nights with Taylor Calderon and Chris Oster.)
  • Ordering food during the week when mess was terrible or we were hungry.
  • Getting chased by security for being out on campus after taps.
  • Hanging out after taps (and hiding from security) — having conversations about anything.
  • Having air soft wars in the hallways when the TAC’s weren’t around and Operation Valkyrie.
  • When the power went out or there was a tornado watch/warning — chaos ensued.
  • Playing hall-ball in Staff during Study Hours.
  • Weekend movie nights.

All of those things are what I consider to be “Riverside exclusive” meaning they couldn’t have been done anywhere else. (This exclusivity makes them so much better than the stories you may hear from public school students).

Riverside may not be the typical public school experience that most of you will whine about not having, but that’s what makes it so awesome. It’s different. Everything is made so much better because you share the experience with your friends, all the time. And because the Riverside system sucks so much, we all hate it. Riverside automatically gives us a cause to gather around which allows us to build strong relationships with each other.

The whole alumni network revolves around this concept; we are Brothers in Blue — not just because we have to put up with each other 24/7 like we would with a sibling, but because we share a common bond in opposition to the Riverside system. We hate marching, we hate Friday PT, we hate the mess hall food, we hate parades…etc. We come together around certain ideas and bond through them. The other aspect of Riverside that makes it so much better than public school is the diversity you get from your friends. At a public school everyone is going to know everyone (for the most part) and no one will be able to bring any new, cool experiences to the table. While at Riverside you make friends with people from all over the world who can share cool and interesting stories that you won’t hear over and over again.

So while you may not have the stereotypical high school experience (you’ll get everything you want on weekends and in college) you’ll have a unique experience that 95% of all high school students won’t have had. You’ll develop the best friendships (with guys from all over the world) and have some of the craziest stories to tell that will stay with you for the rest of your life.

At Riverside you are going to make a ton of memories, but I want to give you some advice that will separate the good memories from the ones that will get you in trouble. You want to have stories that aren’t going to get you kicked out or piss off your cadet leadership (severely). All my “memories” are harmless and entertaining — they don’t piss anyone off and they aren’t going to get me kicked out (AWOL being the exception).

So go do something stupid, something crazy, something against the rules, but don’t take it too far. The general rule of thumb is this:

Do something that isn’t going to cost anyone anything.

For example, kicking a hole in the stairwell in Lanier or pissing in the AC unit may seem like they qualify as “memorable experiences” but they don’t. They get you in trouble and cost others something. Because of those two things the cleaning ladies had to take extra time to clean up the messes, the maintenance guys had to remove the units and repair the wall, and all of your peers had to deal with the smell (of the latter “memory”). Additionally, the commandant got all upset and was in a bad mood and took that out on us in one way or another.

So you want to do things that aren’t going to get the staff and faculty involved (with the exception of the TACs) and that aren’t going to cost something (time, money, resources) to the faculty or yourself.

Another example: Don’t go smoke weed in the baseball dugout the week before you graduate because “Wiese told us that we need to make memories and enjoy our time at Riverside”.

Don’t be a dipshit. You want to make memories that aren’t going to get you kicked out of school either. I know some of you don’t know how to weigh the consequences of actions, so let me teach you real quick:

Ask yourself “Will doing this get me kicked out of Riverside?” If so, don’t do it.

The second aspect of making memories is doing things that won’t work against your fellow brothers in blue. You don’t want to do something stupid during the parade “because it would be funny” if it’s going result in your Company Commander having to “talk” (get yelled at) to the President. Learn which rules can be broken and which ones cannot and you’ll be good.

Final Thoughts:

Most of you reading this won’t understand what I’m talking about and that’s okay. You don’t have to; in fact it’s better if you don’t. When you graduate from Riverside you will look back on all the memories you had and realize that “damn, Wiese was right.” If you process this information, you will probably go out and do something stupid and reference me as an excuse.

Make the most of Riverside and you’ll be glad you did. (After college, most of you who disagree with me right now will realize that 4 years in college after Riverside is much better than spending 4 years at a public school and then possibly not going to college. — I mean, you’re at Riverside for a reason. If you were on track to get into college, most of you wouldn’t be here right?)

For those of you that do understand what I’m saying (upperclassmen), help spread this concept to your cadets and those who look up to you. Let them know that “Riverside State Penitentiary” isn’t as bad when you look back at the experience. Encourage your cadets to make memories in a controlled environment that aren’t going to get them kicked out. If you are smart enough to understand what I’m saying then you also understand the border between having fun and being stupid — help establish the difference.

Enjoy your time at Riverside. It may not seem like the best thing for you, but I promise you it is. The friends and memories you will make will far surpass whatever you would get out of a public high school. Keep things shaken up — break some rules and have some fun, but once again not at the expense of the others. When you walk across that stage it will all be worth it, don’t screw it up.

- CPT. Cameron Wiese

Class of 2013

Dedicated to: All of my cadets in Bravo Company — namely Austin Carroll and Tucker Pearson, my fellow seniors, and most importantly my TAC officer Captain Stumpf this year and Captain Watkins for all three years.

Relentlessly resourceful. Currently in “Resource Mode”.

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