Every spring, crowds gather in front of the U.S. Naval Academy chapel to watch members of that academic year’s plebe class attempt to climb a 21-foot-tall gray granite obelisk that upperclassmen had slathered in lard. Known as the “plebes-no-more” ceremony, fourth-class midshipmen symbolically end their rigorous first year by successfully scaling the column to replace a plebe “dixie-cup” cap with a “combination cover” at the pyramidal top. Academy lore has it that the individual who makes the switch—while standing on the clustered bodies of his or her classmates—will be the first in the class to achieve flag rank.
It is a festive occasion that never fails to draw large throngs of spectators and media who come to see how long it will take this latest class to make the switch—sometimes minutes, sometimes hours. It is largely seen as a form of college high jinks and a chance to let off some steam—in other words, just plain fun.