"11 years ago I became “Mama Ross” to countless Cadets and that title has stuck with me ever since - there is no better feeling than driving up the hill and hearing “Mama Ross'' being yelled from the barrack windows." - Cara Ross, Mother to BC Sean Ross.
Written by Cara Ross, Delivered on PMW 2022 at Fishburne Military School
Good Morning Faculty, Staff, Visitors, Cadets, and most importantly, Parents.
I am honored to be speaking to you all today. It is also a bit surreal that I am the person sharing my thoughts about this very special place that has truly become a second home to me. 11 years ago I became “Mama Ross” to countless Cadets and that title has stuck with me ever since – there is no better feeling than driving up the hill and hearing “Mama Ross” being yelled from the barrack windows. If you have not already learned this, you soon will – once you are an FMS parent, you are a parent to as many boys who need you on any given day. Drive your biggest vehicle when you visit, prepare to spend a small fortune in WalMart, and make sure you call ahead to The Outback to let them know you will be needing several tables and maybe even an entire room. I have attended many Parent Military Weekends as far back as 2011 when my oldest was here. I have put a lot of thought into what to say to you all about the significance of the weekend for your Cadets, whether they are Old Men or Rooks.
The Rooks have made it through a tough training period both mentally and physically, and will now be recognized as Old Men. Being a Rook is not easy, and as I have been told, it is not supposed to be. The physical training is strenuous, as is memorizing the infamous “Rook Book.” On top of it all, they have a full academic course load and are expected to excel. They have been pushed to realize what they are capable of, and to take responsibility for all that is required to become Old Men. My favorite part of the weekend is seeing their new found confidence, strength, and pride in what they have accomplished. Best of all, they are now a part of the brotherhood. Parents, be proud of your sons and ask yourselves what their peers from home have been doing over the last 6 weeks – certainly NOT what a Fishburne Rook has. Congratulations to all of you on becoming Old Men. Mama Ross is very happy for each and every one of you!
The Old Men have also been working hard. Your sons have been leading the Corps in many ways – not just those in leadership positions, but all of them. And while they have not had to endure the tough training that the Rooks have, their jobs are equally challenging in that they are responsible for ensuring the success and strength of the Corps. These Old Men are still just teenagers and yet in many cases their leadership is more effective than that of adults sometimes. They lead by assisting younger cadets in need, whether it is with a homework assignment, showing them how to make their beds or wear their uniforms, or by offering a word of encouragement to someone struggling. They lead by being respectful to faculty and staff and by working to set an example we all can be proud of.
Most importantly, they lead by mentoring the future leaders of Fishburne – there is no job more important than this. Old Men, thank you and keep up the good work, Mama Ross is proud of you too. Parents, be proud of yourselves too! We have all made the difficult decision to send our sons to Fishburne, and we continue to make sacrifices to keep them here. The biggest sacrifice is that of sending our sons away at such a young age. I would venture to say that we all have shed tears driving down the hill after leaving them. Some of us have picked up a second job, or have dipped into savings and retirement accounts. Others have decided to forgo a vacation or a new car. There probably is not a parent in the crowd who has not had to sacrifice something so that your sons can have an education like no other.
Many of us have faced judgment from our friends, family, and colleagues for making the decision to send our sons to a military school. Comments like “He is so young, how can you send him away?” “Why would you spend so much money when there are good schools that cost nothing?” “He’s not a bad kid, why would you send him to a military school?” or the best one, “their son is in a military school, I wonder what he did wrong.” So we try to describe the advantages and uniqueness of a Fishburne education in an attempt to justify our decision; but I have come to learn that there is no way to fully illustrate to an outsider how this little school is a catalyst for molding leaders. I have witnessed this first hand.
I know many former Fishburne Cadets and because of cell phones, instagram, facebook and other social media outlets, I have been able to stay in touch with them and follow their accomplishments. Let me tell you about the Fishburne alumni I know. There are countless college graduates, many from the United States Service Academies, The Citadel, and VMI. Some are small business owners or work for large corporations. Some are maintenance technicians, postal workers, engineers, attorneys or computer analysts. Some have chosen law enforcement and are first responders. They represent all branches of the
United States Military. I know a Navy Pilot, a couple of Army Rangers, a Combat Corpsman or two, a Navy Seal, a Green Beret, and countless Officers and brave soldiers.
There is even a Purple Heart recipient among them who saved countless lives by thwarting a car bomb attack. There may have been a tiny blurb on the nightly news about a United States service member who had been injured. That service member was a 24 year old Fishburne graduate who, by the way, was the first Cadet to call me “Mama Ross”. I remember visiting him at Walter Reed Medical Center after he had made the very long journey home. He was severely injured and had endured multiple surgeries by that point with many more on to come. There were no words; and while I choked back tears, he smiled brightly, opened his arms, and motioned me over for a hug. HE comforted me at that moment and wanted to assure me that he was ok so that I would be ok. This is a moment in my life I will never ever forget. Even today, what resonates most from the experience was the overwhelming feeling of being in the presence of what truly defines leadership, sacrifice, strength, and courage – the very attributes that the Fishburne Cadet strives for every single day. By the way, that same soldier fully recovered and was back in the field a year later.
These are the Fishburne graduates that I know. Their education at Fishburne took them far beyond the classroom and into an environment that has had a great impact on their success and the men they have become. I am proud to know them and very grateful that my sons are a part of the brotherhood. Have confidence in knowing that your sons are a part of a vast network of support that they will have for the rest of their lives. Indeed, they are Brothers for life. In closing, I let me reiterate to you that you should be proud of your sacrifices and the decision to send your sons here, and never feel as though you need to explain or justify anything to anyone. Lou Hotz was asked once why he had chosen to coach at The University of Notre Dame when there were so many other great options with much better football teams. This was his response – and I will substitute Fishburne – “For those who know Fishburne Military School, no explanation is necessary. For those who don’t, no explanation will suffice.”