Randy Hyer is going to medical school and Ashley Yetman is going to work at a factory that turns garbage into electricity. Richard Snow is going to engineering school and then to sea, Nancy Laurenzano is going to study cryptography and Marya Bandyk is going to work in an office.
Like college graduates everywhere, they will scatter to the four winds and seven seas, but they have this in common: They are patriots of the first water, and want fiercely to get ahead. And they reckon four years at the U.S. Naval Academy here has whipped them into shape for both.
This morning as members of a graduating class of 1,032 midshipmen, of whom 75 are women, they will be commissioned as Navy and Marine officers. And they reckon the commissioning comes at the perfect time.
They are leaving the academy at the best of times, they say, with patriotism and conservatism running high in the country. Richard Snow, 25, ranks himself high on both counts. He joined the Navy after high school in 1978, and, soon after that, somebody spat on him at National Airport. "I didn't expect it," he said. "I was thrust into second-class citizenship."
After two years as an enlisted man, he came to the Naval Academy to get a degree and become an officer. Now, the world was different. "It's changed 100 percent," he said. "Now people respect you. You wear the uniform with pride . . . . It makes it more rewarding. People know you are doing a good job."
Robert McNitt, a retired admiral and the academy's dean of admissions, said a resurgence of patriotism and career ambition has affected the academy's midshipmen, too. Their patriotism is obvious and sincere, he said, "and the other side of that is that they'd like to get ahead. They are hard-working and ambitious young people."
In that sense, he said, they are part of a trend seen across the country. "We swim in the same ocean, draw people from the same place," he said. "You sense it when you go on campus. They're proud . . . . It's now considered a great thing to be preparing to be a Navy officer."
Ashley Yetman agrees. "There's a high level of patriotism here," she said. " The day we found out Beirut was bombed, the halls were silent . . . . We have one graphics professor who has everyone say the Pledge of Allegiance before every class." And, she said, military movies are the most popular in the dormitories.
These people take themselves seriously, and speak gravely of their responsibilities -- they admit they are more serious than their civilian counterparts.
But they insist they have fun and recall with pleasure the time they covered up the famous "HOLLYWOOD" sign in Hollywood, Calif., with "GO NAVY" at the time of an Army-Navy football game, the water fights in hallways and mattresses stuffed in elevators.
"You may miss the sorority or fraternity life," said Yetman, 22. "You can't go out and party every night." But they point to the joys of sailing at sea, cruising the East Coast on patrol boats, sailing yachts to Bermuda, flying jets and helicopters, shooting pistols and M16s -- that their civilian counterparts have missed.
The experience they strongly recall, like old warriors reliving ghastly battles, is their "plebe" year -- their first year of indoctrination at the academy.
While their high school classmates were looking for jobs, going to college, attending fraternity parties and rock concerts, dating, loving and marrying, they were were being yelled at, drilled, overworked, underslept, and told they were scum.
"The Naval Academy is the only place in the world where they take away your God-given rights," according to an often-heard academy refrain, "and give them back to you one at a time over the next four years as privileges."
But in a place where the manicured lawns are littered with statues and memorials, and mysterious traditions and slang are adhered to with rigor, it is hard not to feel special and self-assured. "We came, we saw, we kicked ass," declared Nancy Laurenzano, 21, of Bowie. "It's a real pumped-up feeling."
By coming to the Naval Academy, they sidestepped college costs -- the academy is free -- and get a bachelor of science degree from a prestigious institution.
And they sidestepped the later agonies of a job hunt, for a job in the military is guaranteed -- and compulsory for five years.
Richard Snow says that after two years as an enlisted man he realized he was living near poverty, couldn't afford a family and stood little chance of signficant promotion. So he went to the Naval Academy Prep School and then to the academy, where he got a college education and a few rungs up the military ladder.
"The most important thing is that I have an education -- a bachelor of science degree," said Snow. "The second most important thing is that I could achieve a lot more than I could then."
Marya Bandyk, 22, was a high school ballet dancer from Michigan whose Army father "instilled a love of country" in his family.
When she cast around for a college to attend, she said, she was attracted by the academy's high reputation -- and the fact it guaranteed a job.
Bandyk originally wanted to fly but was told that her arms were too short. Having done a little research on how quickly who gets ahead, she is now going into the Supply Corps, where she can learn the skills and arts of business: "Men and women are equal in the Supply Corps," she said.
Likewise, Laurenzano is carefully chiseling out a career in the Navy, where she will specialize in cryptography. "I don't want to be just a glorified secretary," she said. "You want to look into what's good for you."