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Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

A Fellow Navy Academy Graduate Rates John McCain

Bumped from One of the Original Launch Diaries

In the 1958 class the US Naval Academy, John McCain graduated 894th out of 899

Much has been talked about, with respect to John McCain’s time at the Naval Academy.  As someone who also went there, I want to express my deep admiration for John McCain’s accomplishment of graduating 6th from the bottom.

In 1988, I graduated from the United States Naval Academy, exactly 30 years after John McCain.  In my graduating class of around 1100, I graduated dead in the middle, in the low 500s.  By all measures, I was an average Midshipman.

How was my class rank calculated, and why did class rank matter?

Class rank is a combination of several factors:

1. Academic Performance

2. Professional Performance

3. Leadership Performance

There may be several more factors, and they may have changed since I graduated 20 years ago, but those should still be the major areas that are used to calculate class rank.

Why does rank matter?  

Because it determines what you get to pick for a job when you graduate.

What’s the most sought after job?

Naval Aviator.

1.  Academic Performance:  This is pretty much self explanatory.  We all had regular academic majors, (mine was in the engineering area), and this is just like any other school.  If memory serves, academic performance should make up about 60% to 70% of the class rank.  They may have changed the weighting since my time, but this was about the range when I was there.

2.  Professional Performance:  I use this term to refer to the professional military science classes that we all took as part of the core academic curricula.  These include classes like Military Law, Celestial Navigation, etc.

3.  Leadership Performance:  This is based on evaluations from your Company Commander, (a 1st class, or senior Midshipman), and your company officer, (Commissioned Officer, usually between the rank of LT and LCDR).  This includes a few things, but it usually involves: 1) What is the midshipman’s bearing and behavior as a future military officer, and 2) How is this Midshipman doing as a leader, (are they training the underclassmen well, are they an effective leader of men and women, etc).

Now, I had a friend who was a great Midshipman, but a little shy in the academic performance area.  Even though his GPA was about 0.5 lower than mine, he had a higher class rank due to his superior military achievement.

So, I was the contra case:  I had a higher academic GPA than he did, but a lower class rank overall.  This helps smooth things out a bit, since if you’re deficient in one area, you can sort of make up for it in another.

So, how did John get almost to the bottom of the class?

Well, he pretty much fucked up all three areas.  

Remember, this wasn’t just an impact to the individual midshipman, since screwing up the Leadership Performance part also meant that you weren’t doing your job in training and guiding the underclassmen. You were short-changing them also.

It also meant that you broke the rules a lot, (we all did, to some degree or another).  

There’s a saying that prisons are only filled with the dumb criminals…the smart ones know how to not get caught.  I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about McCain’s evasive abilities.

(Ed note: When I was there, there was fierce competition to be the anchorman, since tradition states that the anchorman of the class gets a dollar from every Midshipman that graduated ahead of him or her. This, by the way, drove the administration of the Academy nuts.  It’s also like playing Russian roulette, since in order to graduate that low, you’ve probably also spent the last couple of years almost getting thrown out.)

In order to sink as low as John did and still graduate, he had to take some serious risks…very serious.  In addition, to have spent as much time on restriction as John did, he also needed to get caught…a lot.

So, from my perspective as a fellow alumni, John took many serious risks, and didn’t think the consequences through well enough, or plan well enough to avoid getting caught.

Now, I also got caught jumping the wall once and I paid for it.  I learned my lesson, and was never caught again.  I starting thinking things through a little better, if I ever got the urge to break some rules.

It is amazing, in some ways, that we still see these character traits in John, 50 years later.  


  1. jonra

    McCain graduates near the bottom of his class and Sarah Palin takes 6 years and transfers 5 times to get a 4 year journalism degree. These are the best people we can find to run this country? God, are we ever in lousy shape.

  2. rfahey22

    I wonder, though, if McCain felt like he could afford to get into so much trouble because of his family, and so maybe he would have been a little higher if he had had a different background.  That’s still really shitty, though.  

  3. swaminathan

    Surprised it hasn’t got picked up more widely.  Especially the bit about making Naval Aviator after graduating at the bottom – presumably due to family pull, right?

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