The first course was as smooth as butter on freshly baked cornbread, but the dining room started to heat up when attendants laid the second course— broccoli and cheddar soup. An audible slurp or a rogue droplet could jeopardize Mission: Formal Dining. Each dinner guest paused to strategize. It wasn’t until one guest said, “This is the moment we’ve been preparing for” that relaxed laugher gave rise to soup spoons.
Leadership and etiquette instructor Chris-Ann Streeter, seated at the head of the table, watched her students dining with confidence. “Etiquette is about feeling comfortable with yourself,” said Streeter. “We want to be sure that we are being true to ourselves in character and then present that outwardly. Etiquette has always been important, but it is especially important for this generation that looks at their cell phone screens instead of communicating face to face.”
The Citadel published its first customs and courtesies guide in 1932, with four editions to follow, the last being The Art of Good Taste. Its message—that the fundamental motivation for decorous behavior is “consideration for the rights and feelings of others”—will always be in style.
Although etiquette class is no longer required, the skills it teaches are still in demand. Retired U.S. Marine Corps Col. Tom Clark, ’85, executive director of the Krause Center for Leadership and Ethics, recruited Streeter to lead The Citadel Etiquette Club. “Knowing the rules of etiquette,” said Clark, “will help cadets respond appropriately in social situations and gain self-respect, self-confidence and peer credibility. The value of etiquette and good manners to a leader cannot be overstated.”
“The value of etiquette and good manners to a leader cannot be overstated.”
Streeter has lived in and visited over 28 countries. “Learn the culture no matter where you are,” she said. “You can help people better that way.” As the wife of a Marine officer, she knows the value of interpersonal relationships and adaptability, lessons she imparts while coaching military spouses and personnel abroad.
The course Streeter tailored to Citadel cadets focused on conduct for high-stakes meetings, job interviews and dates. “When you’re in a class setting,” said Streeter, “everyone can help each other.”
On the first day of class, Streeter armed her students with a copy of her manual, Lasting Impressions, and an arsenal of thank-you cards. “There were certain things the cadets didn’t initially know about dining etiquette and thank-you cards,” she said. “Sometimes a thank- you text is not appropriate and not enough.”
Streeter channeled her expertise on social graces to provide hands-on learning experiences ranging from setting tables to social dancing. “The questions the cadets asked showed that they wanted to get into the nitty gritty of how they will behave in public during business or social settings,” she said. “They’re highly engaged.”
The program featured an assortment of guest speakers. Attire presentations from Joseph A. Banks and the Loft helped participants gauge what to wear for civilian situations, and a resume coach taught them howto shine on paper. “We have interviews because the resume can look fabulous, but employers want to meet the actual person,” said Streeter. “We’re not defined by what we do. We are defined by our character, who we are. Your personal life and work will be better done when your character is deep inside you.”
At the conclusion of the eight-week program, participants received a resume-ready certificate and were invited to a four-course dinner at the home of Citadel President Gen. Glenn Walters and his wife, Gail, for a real-world opportunity to implement their newly forged skills.
Gail Walters demonstrated the art of entertaining with a warm welcome and a tour of Quarters One, allowing guests to practice polite conversation and admire artwork while instrumental music played in the background.
Political science major Cadet Keaton Spitser, one of the 12 students participating, enjoyed the sautéed vegetables and chicken. The Kentucky native registered for the course ahead of an upcoming internship, which would mark his first time visiting the nation’s capital. “The Citadel’s etiquette class helps prepare you for professional settings by teaching manners and civility,” he said. “I’ve already started recommending it to other cadets.”
When another cadet, who briefly left the table before the dessert course, forgot where to place his napkin properly, the classmate to his left covered for himby discretely sliding the napkin onto his chair. “You never want to embarrass people,” said Streeter. “When you have good morals and character, you can be a better listener, more respectful and sincere, and true to yourself and others.”
With all napkins put in place, lively conversation lingered as the guests departed. Mission: Formal Dining was a success. “I definitely saw an improvement from the first class to the last class,” Streeter said. “It’s important for all cadets and students to graduate with a little bit of etiquette protocol.”