An open letter to the Class of 2024
This summer, with the shock effects of the pandemic reverberating across every facet of daily life, rising Charlie Company Commander Cadet Christian Seidler realized that the coming academic year would test the endurance of the Class of 2024 more than usual, so he composed this letter to encourage and inspire them to accept the challenge.
The other day I took a break from the quarantine monotony to go for a much-needed run through my California neighborhood. But this run was different from my typical runs. There was no music, no one accompanying me, no distractions—it was just me and my thoughts. As the sun beat down, warm sweat beaded on my face, and on a steep trek up a hill, three simple words from my knob year came back to me: “Carry the boulder.” My fellow Fourth Battalion brothers and sisters with whom I had the privilege to matriculate will remember these words from a speech given to us by our battalion commander, Chase Shiflet. It was Challenge Week, and the day was a lot like this running day, with the addition, of course, of Charleston’s infamous humidity. Mr. Shiflet, as we knew him, was comparing each year at The Citadel to climbing a mountain, noting that we each choose how much weight we will carry. Though their gravity was lost on me that day, his words have since guided me and transformed my life, and I would like to share his words and my story with you as you embark upon your journey on the Road Less Traveled.
“Most people in life carry a pebble. They put it in their pocket and walk up the mountain without much pain. When they reach the peak, they are content and move on to the next mountain. Then there are those few who carry the boulder. It’s heavy. It’s painful. You will fall flat on your face and fail. It will push you to your limit and crush you. But when you reach that peak, you will look back on all that you struggled through, all of the pain and hardship, and you will be filled with a full heart because despite all of the pain and adversity, YOU OVERCAME IT.
“There are two types of pain in life, the physical pain that you grow from and the pain of regret. After these four years, not every senior’s ring weighs the same. When fate hands you a mirror to reflect on your life, which pain will you feel? I choose the pain that makes me grow. I choose to carry the boulder. So I challenge all of you to do the same. Take each year, take each day, take each moment that you have the privilege to wear this uniform and use it to carry the boulder up that mountain. CARRY THE BOULDER!”
I reflected on those remarks during my run and realized just how much those three simple words have transformed my life. My Citadel experience has taught me a number of life lessons that were forged in the fires of my knob year and have been tempered and strengthened each moment since. I would not be where I am today if not for those words, and just as importantly, an environment in which to put them into practice. The Citadel gave me not only the tools for success, but also the environment in which to carry the boulder and put those simple words into action.
Knob year was tough. There were moments of doubt in everyone’s mind at some point during those long nine months. Thankfully, you do not go through knob year alone, which is why there is an indescribable feeling of camaraderie among cadets at every level, from the squad to the entire Corps of Cadets. We share this formative experience and grow to become leaders. Every good leader is also a dynamic follower. I leaned on my classmates countless times throughout the years, and they leaned on me. You cannot achieve success alone. The Citadel has taught me this lesson. You will learn that you can achieve more when you work together and take care of one another.
Leadership is an action, not a position. There are so few opportunities to practice leadership with the freedom to fail. I encourage you to fail, but not to let that failure define you. Instead, always fail forward. For every successful achievement, no matter how small, I have failed several times to get there. I have made good decisions as a leader, and I have made more than my share of mistakes. What separates most people from us at The Citadel is that we learn to use those failures as a means to grow and get better. We are dynamic leaders who adapt and evolve to meet the demands of our environment, and we thrive because we have so many experiences in our toolbox of knowledge that we gained during our time as cadets. The Citadel is a small place in the vast world of life, but it is a meaningful one. You will have your peaks and you will have your valleys. Lean on your classmates, carry the boulder together, fail forward, then get right back up, and you will achieve success.
My chosen path is the military. Since I was a little kid, I have wanted to serve something greater than myself, so after graduation I will serve my country in the United States Air Force. While attending Tactical Air Control Party (TACP) officer selection in March, I had the privilege of meeting some of the finest leaders I have ever known. At the same time, I also met the most difficult moments in my life. During times of great struggle, we often fall back on what we know and what we have learned. Learning to be a leader and a dynamic follower at The Citadel gave me the tools to succeed at TACP officer selection. It was designed for us to fail first and then come together to lead and support one another within a team. The theme is identical in concept to knob year.
Over the course of one week at TACP selection, we were pushed to our physical and mental limits while functioning on little sleep and a calorie-deficit diet. While the experience sounds difficult, it was merely a discomfort after The Citadel, where we develop a second nature to be comfortable at being uncomfortable. If not for The Citadel, I would have been ill prepared to function in such a demanding environment.
Adversity takes many forms. This year, my family was going through an emotionally and financially difficult divorce. As the oldest of four sons, I had to step up to help where I could and when I could. It was a tough time for us all, but I told my family the same thing when our world around us seemed to be falling apart: “Things will get better.” I learned through my experiences that times of challenge eventually pass. How we react during those especially difficult moments defines our character. I found myself assuming the role of the father figure with no clear end in sight, but those words got us through our difficult times, and we have since grown stronger from the experience. And from the back regions of my mind, those same three words resonate again: “Carry the boulder.”
As I reflected on these experiences during that neighborhood run, I came to a greater understanding of the value of those words and an even greater appreciation for The Citadel and the opportunities it afforded me. The Citadel experience and the amazing people I met along the way—Citadel men and women whom I have had the great blessing to call my brothers and sisters—made me who I am today. And I am forever grateful.
Cadet Christian Seidler is the 2021 Charlie Company commander and a civil engineering major. He is the recipient of an Air Force Scholarship as well as the Captain Ryan Hall Leadership Sword, presented annually to the rising senior Air Force contract cadet who has excelled in academics and leadership, and he is one of less than a dozen ROTC cadets across the country to be awarded an Air Force tactical air control party officer slot.