Ragan Freitag, Top Student at The Citadel, Says She Has Nothing To Prove — But Nonetheless Seems to Be Proving That Women Can Excel at This Tough Military College
WILMINGTON — On the day Ragan Freitag found out she’d made homecoming court at Joliet Catholic Academy, she got a letter telling her she’d been accepted at The Citadel in Charleston, S.C.
Her friends, Ragan said, thought she was crazy. Her younger sister, Morgan, now a junior at JCA, said Ragan always liked to do different things.
“I wanted a challenge,” admitted Ragan, who is believed to be the first woman from our area to be admitted to this exclusive military college.
During her first “hell week” in August, she fainted and ended up in an emergency room.
But there was no backing out for Ragan, one of only 37 girls in a class of 639.
“We gave her the chance to quit, but no matter what, she’s stuck with it,” said her mom, Georgia.
“My thing was that no matter what, quitting was not an option.
No matter how tired, sad, or lonely I felt, I just wasn’t going to quit,” Ragan explained.
Still, Ragan said she has nothing to prove.
“I’m not there to make a difference or to set an example.
I’m there to get the education, military aspect, physical aspect, everything,” Ragan said while on spring break back home in Wilmington.
“And to make my parents proud,” she added.
It took a federal court order for The Citadel, which opened in 1842, to admit its first female student in 1995. The nation watched Shannon Faulkner falter, then drop out.
The next year four women started; only two made it through freshman year.
Countless news stories have focused on just how grilling a “knob’s” first year is at this college — and harassment women students face. Rated “best college value” this year by U.S. News and World Report, The Citadel admits only about 20 percent of those who apply. Freshman year is considered the toughest and an average grade point for that year is 2.0. But Ragan made the dean’s list her first semester with a 3.7 out of 4.0, a notable achievement.
As early as her freshman year at Joliet Catholic Academy, where she played girls basketball and was an honor student, she knew that The Citadel was the type of college she wanted to attend.
She thought about West Point but didn’t want to be obligated to serve in the military.
She first visited The Citadel while in her senior year and she got good vibes.
She was accepted early in September 1998, one of the 20 percent accepted out of the 700 who applied.
At first her mom wasn’t too crazy about the idea.
“I thought that’s not what my daughter’s supposed to do.
I would never stop her from doing it, though.
I knew that’s what she wanted to do,” she said.
The military is a family tradition on her dad Roger’s side of the family. “For her going to The Citadel, it makes me proud.
I served in the service as did my father and grandfather.
Ragan definitely has direction and focus,” he said.
Still he stressed: “This isn’t a dream of ours.
The first eight days at school are the toughest.
Ragan described it as basically eight rigid days of physical training and not much sleep.
This is where the “weaklings” are weeded out.
Upperclassmen yell at the students as they train and tell everyone to go home and that they’re not wanted there.
“This is what makes people break down and quit — they take it personally. You can’t do that.
What they’re trying to do is rid people of their preconceived ideas and attitudes and enforce good qualities that make the graduates so prominent,” Ragan said.
During that week, when the temperature can soar to 100 degrees, Ragan became dehydrated and hyperventilated.
“I remember looking straight ahead and it kept getting darker and darker. Next thing I remember I woke up in the emergency room,” she said.
The next day she was back on track.
She gained a lot of respect for sticking with it.
Her company started with 40 and has now dwindled down to 25.
Two girls quit after seeing their hair cut, Ragan remembered with a chuckle.
“It gets lonely.
Sometimes I look around my class and I’m the only girl,” said Ragan.
She has two classes with one other girl but for the rest of the classes she’s just one of the guys.
The school has held a couple of meetings for just girls.
“They’re basically just to let us know that there are people to talk to and to let us know that even though we’re girls, the school does want us there,” Ragan said.
In her company there are four girls and she said they are real close. “The only people who will ever know exactly what I went through are those classmates of mine who went though it with me,” she said.
Sheila Fry, who taught Ragan at Joliet Catholic Academy in English IV Honors, said many people told Ragan she’d never make it at The Citadel.
“All year long she struck me as a person who knew her own mind,” she said. “She’s a very independent person at place where they (Citadel) tell you what to do.”
Hanging out with the girls is one of the big things Ragan misses.
She also misses her best friend, her sister.
When Ragan returns home for school breaks her favorite thing to do is relax.
“I love to just be able to wear regular clothes, to drive a car, and spend time with my family.
Just to sit here and be normal is awesome,” she said.
Ragan keeps in close contact with her family through late-night e-mails and phone calls on the weekend.
“Mostly I miss sitting around with her.
Or if I wanted to do something, she was the one I always used to do it with,” said Morgan.
“When she comes home, it’s just like it was before she left.
She’s my best friend,” she added.
Even despite the vigorous training (she doesn’t get to bed before 1 a.m. weekdays and has classes at 8 a.m.) and feeling homesick, Ragan knows that The Citadel has so much to offer her.
Her major is political science and next year she hopes to minor in French.
Ragan plans to get a master’s degree in foreign affairs and with The Citadel under her belt she expects to have endless opportunities.
She said that 95 percent of seniors there already know where they’ll go right after graduation.
One senior she knows had five job offers the first week of school. Ragan just recently returned from spring break for the last stretch before finishing freshman year.
May 11 is Recognition Day and she’s not sure exactly what’s in store for her.
All she knows is the stories she’s heard. According to those stories, all the “knobs” indulge in a last meal before enduring 24 hours of physical training that includes a 10-mile run and ends with 103 sit-ups (103 because Ragan’s class will graduate in 2003.) May 13 is the last day of school.
Over the summer, Ragan plans to take classes at Joliet Junior College and notes that things will be different when she returns for sophomore year at Citadel.
She’ll be allowed to grow her hair out a little and be able to wear a little jewelry and makeup.
She also looks forward to applying for rank.
“I love knowing that I actually did something.
In the past seven months I feel that I’ve done so much and have worked so hard and accomplished so much,” she said.
Will The Citadel find its way into Morgan’s college plan?
“No, I’m going to a normal college, Citadel isn’t normal,” she said and laughed.
“It’s just different,” Ragan retaliated.