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Our Mighty Citadel

Aaron Daninger

Rite of Passage

Spring semester was in full swing when February unceremoniously blended into March.  As the days ticked by, Cadet Aaron Daninger, Class of 2022, felt the excitement mounting as Recognition Day, March 29, neared.

“The days couldn't go by quickly enough,” said Daninger, a member of Echo Company.  “I felt a lot of anticipation.”

Recognition Day for fourth-class cadets,­­ or “knobs,” as they are called by upper-class cadets, is a rite of passage that signifies the end of fourth-class training and the associated scrutiny by cadre, members of the Corps of Cadets charged with freshman training.  Fourth-class training begins in August with a week devoted to physical exercise and instruction in everything from marching in step to maintaining proper military bearing.   As part of their yearlong training, freshmen walk single file at a brisk pace, stand at attention in a rigid manner known as “bracing,” sweep the barracks and polish brass, recite facts called “Knob Knowledge” that all freshmen must memorize, undergo daily room inspections, and take part in spirit runs after parade.  

Daninger and his classmates arrived with their families August 11 of last year in cars, SUVs and vans brimming with their belongings. 

“I was excited, nervous.  I hadn’t been away from home for an extended period of time,” said Daninger, who chose The Citadel because he wants to be a pilot in the U.S. Air Force.  “It was a new chapter, and I was ready to go.”

But he quickly found that there were challenges—saying goodbye to his family, the routine of military life combined with rigorous academics, and living in the barracks.

“Quitting was not an option,” he said.  “I had no doubt I had to make it. I have too much I want to do.  I want to fly airplanes.  I want to do big things.  Failure was not an option.”

The classmates who began the journey with him as strangers played a crucial part in Daninger’s success. 

“When things got hard, it was my classmates who really helped me get through it.  We banded together, we got tight as a class, and we made the best of it.”

A history major, Daninger excelled academically, earning Gold Stars both semesters for a grade point ratio of 3.7 or higher. 

The gauntlet, a series of physically demanding team-building activities conducted in a round-robin fashion, took place in the afternoon of Recognition Day.  The exercises ranged from sandbag drags and carries to tire flips and buddy carries. 

“It was finally here,” said Daninger. “I had anticipated it all year.  Everybody talked about Recognition Day, the gauntlet. They said it was going to be hard, and they were right.”

Shoulder-to-shoulder with his classmates, Daninger pushed himself through the pain and the intensity of the workout, with the knowledge that the year was almost over propelling him to the end.  “I gotta keep going. I gotta keep pushing… we’re all going through it,” he told himself, and then it was finished and he was running through campus with his classmates to the chant of a military cadence.  More pushups followed, and then he braced with his classmates, sweat dripping, as bagpipes played, and Cadet Colonel Sarah Zorn, the regimental commander, announced over the intercom that the fourth-class system was no longer in effect.

“We were all just elated, grinning from ear to ear.  It was really awesome,” Daninger said of that moment when it was all over and the emotions rushed over him as he realized that he had just braced for the final time. 

“The best advice I ever got was to live to fight another day, keep pushing, never stop, keep your nose to the grindstone,” said Daninger, who returns this month as a sophomore to serve as a cadre corporal to a new class of knobs preparing to follow in the footsteps of Daninger and his classmates.

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#1 Public College in the South

The Citadel has been ranked #1 Public College in the South offering up to a master's degree by U.S. News & World Report for 10 years in a row.

1 in 3 Cadets Earn a Commission

Approximately 1 in 3 cadets earn a commission into the U.S. Armed Forces upon graduation.

Citadel Graduate College

The Citadel Graduate College offers 25 graduate degrees programs with 22 concentration options, 25 graduate certificates and 10 undergraduate degree completion programs.

12:1 Student-Faculty Ratio

The 12:1 student-faculty ratio ensures direct access to nationally recognized scholars.

2,300 Cadets

Approximately 2,300 students comprise the South Carolina Corps of Cadets at The Citadel.

Over 90% Cadet Placement

Over 90% of Cadets report professional employment, military, or graduate school acceptance within 6 months of graduation, which is significantly above the national average.

$250,690,056 Raised

20,784 donors contributed to the Foundation for Leadership campaign, a 6 year effort to support the college.

Over 1,100 Non-Traditional Students

The Citadel Graduate College has a population of over 1,100 students, 23% of whom are a part of the undergraduate degree completion program.

16 Varsity Athletic Teams

The Citadel is part of the Division I Southern Conference with 9 men's varsity teams and 7 women's varsity teams.

Learning in 23 Countries

Citadel cadets and students study abroad in 23 countries across several continents.

22% Veteran Students

22% of the Citadel Graduate College are veteran students studying locally and abroad with The Citadel ranked as #1 Public College for Veterans in the South.

24 Undergraduate Majors

The Citadel offers 24 undergraduate majors and 39 minors.

#1 College for Alumni Giving in the South

The Citadel is ranked #1 College for Alumni Giving in the South with a current alumni network of over 39,000 people.

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