Layne Erickson

Year of Graduation: 
Exeter graduate Layne Erickson at West Point

"I was so far out of my comfort zone that I was afraid I'd never find it again."

Layne Erickson ’18 of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, spent three years at Exeter, living in Dunbar Hall, rowing crew, playing hockey and joining clubs. A month after graduation, as her classmates soaked up summer vacation, she found herself in basic training in preparation for entry into the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York. “I tried a lot of new things; sleeping outside at night in a downpour, firing grenade launchers, learning combat first aid,” she recalls. “I was so far out of my comfort zone that I was afraid I'd never find it again.”

Now, Erickson is deep into her plebe year, a proud member of 3rd Regiment, 3rd Battalion, Golf Company, or G3 (“Go, Gophers!”) — one of four Exonians in the class of 2022 at West Point. We recently caught up with her to see how she was adjusting to life after Exeter.

How did you wind up at West Point?

“I think I really got into the idea of the service academies when I wrote my 333. As an upper, I was just beginning to dive into the college process, and I was searching for sources in the library when a book on West Point caught my eye. I ended up writing my 17-page 333 on the service academy classes of 1980, or the first classes of women to graduate. It was after all that research that I was completely sold on the challenge. The women I read about inspired me, and even now, it means a lot to me to follow in their footsteps.”

How are you adjusting to life in the Corps of Cadets?

"A typical day for me starts early. Fridays begin at 0530, when I wake up to scrub bathrooms with my fellow plebes. A normal wake-up, though, is about 0600. … Taps is at 2330, and if I'm lucky I'm in bed by then. … Obviously, it’s a pretty busy way to live, but I have personally found that I really like the challenge and the structure that such a packed schedule offers. There are plenty of other weird things I've had to adjust to: plebes are never allowed to wear civilian clothing and must be in uniform at all time, plebes may not talk outside of their rooms or academic buildings, plebes have to cup their hands and square their corners when they walk, etc. Plenty of bizarre rules. But you pick them up pretty quick."

Are there any similarities to life at PEA to life at USMA?

"I personally see a ton of similarities between PEA and USMA. Of course I have very little freedom here, which is a huge change coming off of senior spring at PEA, but it reminds me quite a bit of being a varsity athlete at Exeter as an underclassman: waking up early to work out, classes all day until 4 pm followed by two hours of practice, and mandatory study hours with a lights-out check.

"Honestly, even in the ways that Exeter and USMA differ, I have found that Exeter prepared me extraordinarily well for life here. For one thing, just having lived away from home for so long means that I've already developed a level of independence that my peers lack. The time-management skills I developed at Exeter have been exceptionally helpful here as well, and the workload is pretty similar. A lot of my friends here have found themselves struggling with the level of academic rigor and heavy workload here, but I find myself all the time thinking about how much easier it is here than at Exeter. I might not have appreciated the difficulty all the time while I was there, but I can't describe how thankful I am for it now."

Do you find yourself thinking about your experiences at PEA in your new challenge?

"I find myself thinking about Exeter constantly. It's a little embarrassing, but I'm definitely that one college freshman who never quite made it out of high school. The experiences I had at Exeter were second to none, and as much as I know I shouldn't compare my two schools, it's extraordinarily difficult not to. A large number of our students are from small towns in places like Wyoming or Texas who have never met someone who doesn't look and speak the way they do. You can definitely see a disconnect where some students struggle to adjust to a culture of inclusion, especially with respect to sexuality, gender and religion. It is times like these that I am so, so appreciative of my time at Exeter. As a girl from western Wisconsin, I was rarely exposed to any sort of diversity. The discussions and exposure I had at Exeter, though, prepared me very well for a future as a leader in a diverse Army. Exeter has always done an excellent job in ensuring inclusion and teamwork between polar opposites, and that is a skill I have seen to be vital in my very short time in the military."

What do you miss most about Exeter?

"I have never made connections so strong as those I made with my fellow Exonians. I miss how close our classes were, how I could name every person I passed on the path. I miss being able to approach any teacher with a problem and know that they would go out of their way to help you in any way they could. I miss the culture, the art, EP. Everyone was competing, sure, but Exeter appreciated the strengths of every individual. The artists were as good as the academics were as good as the athletes. I have never seen and may never see again such a colorful crowd of people as those I knew at Exeter. It is that diversity, the intellectual diversity, the pursuit of beauty and excellence and passion, that I miss the most."

Finish this phrase: If I had Exeter to do all over again, I would …

"I would forgive myself more. I spent way too much time beating myself up for not getting perfect grades, or not putting enough time into a paper, or taking time for myself when I could have been focusing on things I thought were more important, like my sports and classes. And sure, those things are important, but in reality, it means nothing to me now how I did on a math test my lower year, or how well edited my final meditation draft was. But what does matter is how much time I wasted not being with the people I love."

In one sentence, what is your best advice to current Exonians?

"It's cliche, and it's what every grad says, but if we all say it, it must be valid: Appreciate what you have; you won't realize how lucky you are until you don't have it anymore. And once you're gone, you can't go back."

Editor's note: A condensed version of this Q&A ran in the winter 2019 issue of The Exeter Bulletin.