We interrupt this three-part post on higher education for a personal proud parent moment, somewhat related to higher education.
We’ve been traveling the past week. I tried to get two of the higher education posts ready before leaving town, and thought I had set Part I for Wednesday and Part II for Friday—but, no doubt because of a technical error on my part, Friday’s post didn’t get the date set and showed up late Tuesday evening, before Part I the following morning. So sorry about the confusion. It may still take me a couple of days after getting home before I can complete Part III.
Thursday, October 3rd, our middle son, Economic Sphere, graduated from the Defense Language Institute, the military’s language training center in Monterey, California. Technically I’m not supposed to announce the language he’s been studying. But I can say that it is the hardest language taught at the DLI. It is rated a level 4 language, but there is some discussion about making it a level 5 so they can spend more time on it. The graduation ceremony included two classes of his language and one class of Persian Farsi, which is a level 3 language, and therefore a shorter program. (There are graduation ceremonies just about every week at the DLI; and ours was the first of two last Thursday.)
Economic Sphere’s program was 64 intense weeks. Our son has spent that time arising at 4:45 AM, studying vocabulary on the bus, getting to formation at 7:00 AM, doing classroom study for 8 hours or so, doing PT (physical training, because this is the Army—although the DLI includes students from all branches of the armed forces), and after dinner studying until 10:00 PM, so he gets a few hours of sleep before doing it again the next day. And there were weekend assignments as well.
Monterey is a beautiful place where you want to spend your time outdoors, but these students didn’t get to do much of that.
Economic Sphere says he kind of rolled his eyes at students of other languages, who complained how hard they had it. I pointed out that only those with the highest aptitude got to study his language, so maybe those students were working as hard as they could on their languages. But he had seen that they clearly had more free time than he did. That’s why taking even more than 64 weeks is a consideration.
In each of the two classes, of trainees who lasted to take the final exams a couple of weeks ago, 3-5 failed. They still got to walk for the graduation, because they completed the course, but their next assignment is to take the following several weeks to study more and try the exams again. The military spends about $1M on training each of these language experts, so they’re not going to wash them out without significant cause. We were relieved Economic Sphere passed, beyond requirements. Whew!
Back in college I earned a minor in Spanish, and nearly completed another minor in Portuguese, but he probably surpassed my years of study within the first half year. In Spanish I got to probably a level 1+ in reading comprehension and maybe speaking, less in aural comprehension—never good enough for simultaneous translation. I may have reached a level 1 in some areas of Portuguese. Economic Sphere got to 1+ in speaking, his toughest area, and considerably higher in reading and comprehension, similar to people who’ve lived in country for several years. (For comparison, Mormon missionaries, who spend two years in country, typically get to about a 1+ in speaking and comprehension. There were a couple of them starting with that advantage in the class.)
We got to meet some of the teachers afterward. They said Economic Sphere was very smart—he taught them economics in class, in their language. They often went over current events, and he was aware of what was happening in the news, and could explain what it meant. He’s kind of encyclopedic that way—no matter the language.
I enjoyed the short ceremony, which talked about the value of these linguists to the military, and to our nation's peace. In their creed it says a US Linguist is dedicated to the Defense of our Nation: “By providing intelligence through translation to my country’s leaders, my global knowledge ensures peace and defends freedom.” The graduation speaker pointed out that understanding the culture along with the language gives a much more complete understanding—and understanding is the best way to maintain peace. What these men and women do cannot be done by machines; it’s a human challenge.
I know of the strength and integrity of my son. I could see much of the same resolve and honor in his classmates as well. These are fine young people, prepared to serve in a way that not every willing person can. I am grateful for the hard work and concentrated effort they have added to their innate talent.
A word about the DLI crest: The upper right is a portion of the Rosetta Stone (ancient artifact in Egyptian and Greek that led to translations of other ancient writings). The cap in the lower left represents the Spanish soldiers during the expedition of Father Junipero Serra, who built a fort in 1770 to protect the mission on the current Presidio site. The red and blue colors represent the wartime and peacetime missions of the DLI. The green olive branch reflects the mission of promoting peace through understanding. The gold torch at the top symbolizes learning and knowledge. At the Post Exchange (which was open on base, despite the government shutdown), I was able to get a souvenir throw with the crest on it. I was pleased to get something with so much meaning attached.
Economic Sphere didn’t want me to publicly post his photo, which I would have liked to do because I’m so proud of him. But I am respecting his online privacy wishes. So you’ll have to take my word for it that he looked very handsome and impressive in his dress uniform, and I am enjoying the photos for myself.