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Column: Celebrating CMA’s 60th
Casey Robinson (ANVIL).jpg
Casey Robinson

Camden Military Academy (CMA), the “Official Military Academy of South Carolina,” is celebrating a huge milestone this spring, 60 years of operation. Last fall marked the 60th school-year registration at CMA, and on Sunday, May 19, 63 seniors marched across the stage for the 60th presentation of diplomas.

While CMA’s roots extend back to 1892, CMA has operated on the current campus since the 1958-1959 school year. Col. James Risher was the owner of Carlisle Military School in Bamberg. Col. Risher operated Carlisle at capacity and had a tremendous opportunity to extend the Carlisle experience to more young men by opening CMA in Camden. Risher’s son, Co. Lanning Risher, opened CMA in 1958. When Carlisle closed in 1977, its records, traditions, and flag were sent to CMA. The academy could hold 230 cadets until 2001 when an additional barracks was built increasing capacity to nearly 300 cadets. CMA’s current headmaster, Colonel Eric Boland, is only the third headmaster in the history of the academy. Camden Military Academy, with its rich history, continues to flourish today.

With this year’s graduation, the academy has now awarded diplomas to nearly 3,000 young men. Our alumni span the world and are leaders in their communities and professions. Of course, we have a number of former cadets that have gone on to have illustrious military careers; however, we have a number of “civilian” success stories as well. A few that stand out are a former NBA player, a former chief of staff to the governor of South Carolina, a world-renowned cardiologist and a university dean at a very prestigious institution of higher learning on the East Coast. Also, a very well-known drummer who played for 25 years in a country music band who caught their big break in Myrtle Beach.

On a lighter and more frivolous note, over my years at CMA, I have been asked, “do famous people send their family members to CMA?” The answer is yes! You may have in fact really seen celebs strolling the streets of Camden. I will not use the names of these celebrities, but I will offer some hints! There is a Southern chef from Georgia, America’s favorite boxer in the movies, a real boxing champion who also made an appearance on Dancing With the Stars, a long time actor who appeared in several movies in the 1970s and whose career is “stayin’ alive,” a platinum recording artist and an actor who was familiar with the military because of his role in the movie Stripes. Those are just a few of our “famous” family members and/or alums and I think that I have provided you with just enough clues to keep you guessing, right?!

On a serious note, CMA has impacted Camden and Kershaw County through its belief in giving back. The academy and its cadets have participated in numerous community events throughout the years. Additionally, CMA annually hosts the Kershaw County Special Olympics on our campus. Our cadets participate in a myriad of other service projects throughout Camden and Kershaw County from assisting set up and breakdown of community functions, valet parking, assisting and supporting road races as well as presenting the colors of the United States of America at events.

The academy also has a tremendous economic impact in our area. Cadets and their families frequently stay at our hotels and historic bed and breakfasts, dine in our restaurants and shop with our local merchants. The last study conducted in 2015 shows that CMA families and visitors spend more than $2.9 million in our local economy annually. This weekend was graduation and you probably saw a lot of unfamiliar faces in and around town. I hope you took a moment to visit with these CMA families as we value them for helping our community become an even better place to live.

CMA’s impact is not just felt locally, but globally. In fact, earlier this spring, the S.C. General Assembly recognized the academy with a joint resolution designating Saturday, April 26, 2019, as “Camden Military Academy Day” in the state of South Carolina noting its strong dedication to academic excellence and the academy’s impact on the state. In addition, the academy has a stellar reputation among the boarding school community with a more than 95 percent college acceptance rate each year. The academy usually has one service academy appointment each year, but this year we have two! CMA has operated at capacity for the last two years when military schools around the country are facing challenges or even closing. There are a lot of great things happening on our cast Camden campus!

I believe the academy’s success can be attributed to the foresight of our board, headmaster emeritus, and current headmaster. They have placed the academy in a position to experience success for years to come with careful planning, the hiring of dedicated employees as well as implementing improvements to cadet life and the campus. However, the most valuable asset is the people that work at CMA. Each of our 117 employees plays a vital role in the success of the cadets and the students. Our people truly care, and most have worked at the academy for a decade or more.

This past weekend was filled with graduation festivities. A baccalaureate service was held Friday evening at 7 p.m. in the Cline Chapel. The 2019-2020 awards ceremony was held in the chapel at 2 p.m. on Saturday. The main event, graduation, took place Sunday morning beginning with a parade on the Martain Parade Field at 9:30 a.m., immediately followed by the commencement ceremony in the White Field House. Our commencement speaker was Col. Lanning Risher, founder of Camden Military Academy.

There have been a series of videos published on social media and YouTube to commemorate the 60th anniversary. Please take a moment to celebrate with us by viewing and sharing these videos. In closing, Happy Anniversary Camden Military Academy! The entire Camden community and I wish you many, many more!