I used to think that only princesses like Cinderella got to go to the ball. I never imagined myself in her shoes, dressed in the perfect gown, travelling in the perfect carriage, and swept off my feet by the perfect Prince Charming. This weekend I had the chance to attend the International Ball at the United States Naval Academy, and it was an experience I will never forget. It was also–for lack of a better word–perfect.

My perfect gown was a simple bridesmaid dress I had from a few years back. My perfect carriage was the backseat of my mom’s car. And my perfect Prince Charming was my boyfriend of eighteen months, a midshipman at the academy. While long distance relationships have their difficulties, I felt like the luckiest girl in world as he escorted me into his world. Looking back, I would not trade the experience for anything.

Everyone knows one thing about the service academies: they are strict. The people in charge like to tell everyone else what to do at all hours of the day, and honestly, many of the rules do not make sense to me. They exist for the sole purpose of being followed. Even though I do not understand all of the rules midshipmen must follow, I have appreciated the chance to learn more about them.

The first hard lesson I learned was that for six weeks of the summer before their freshman year, midshipmen at the academy do not have access to their phones. Without calling, texting, videochatting, Facebook messaging, and Snapchatting, how is a plebe to stay in touch with his girlfriend?

You’ll notice the above list does not forbid the writing and receiving of letters, a tradition that, though it requires patience and adjusting, is well worth the wait. Writing letters each day over the summer made me feel trapped in time and alone as all my other contacts were only a text away on my phone. However, after receiving my first letter I began to understand the magic behind mail. Never before had I received a message so personalized and permanent. A written letter cannot be deleted as a text would when your storage gets too full. It is much less likely to be sent to the wrong person and then played off as a casual misunderstanding. Letters are concrete proof that someone cares about you enough to write a message where they won’t know your immediate reaction, but they are willing to wait for it. This tradition only brought my midshipman and me closer together, and it is a tradition we continue to this day. Though it may seem archaic and unnecessary, a considerate amount of thought is put behind handwritten notes, and people can truly feel that. So if you’re looking for a way to put a smile on someone’s face, I highly recommend a visit to the post office and some patience.

Rules are clearly in place for a reason at the Naval Academy, and I have to some degree resented the impact this has had on my life. However, there are some traditions that have opened my mind to the way the world may have been in the past and how lucky I am now for the opportunities I am presented. While the academy may in some ways seem unnecessarily old fashioned, for the chance to feel like a princess for a day, while also watching a mass of matching midshipmen dance in unison to the electric slide, I have come to appreciate many aspects of the country’s service academies that I had never understood before.

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