I Think Shafer’s a Mormon
March 1996

“I Think Shafer’s a Mormon,” Ensign, Mar. 1996, 64–65

“I Think Shafer’s a Mormon”

One summer afternoon in 1974, my roommates and I at the United States Naval Academy were in the middle of the infamous “Plebe Summer,” when freshmen at the academy undergo the rigorous transition from civilian to military life. We were dutifully shining our shoes in our quarters one afternoon when one of my roommates broke the silence with, “I think Shafer’s a Mormon.”

Midshipman First Class Michael Shafer was our platoon leader. Since I had never heard the term Mormon before, I said, “Oh, yeah? How can you tell?”

“Well,” my roommate replied, “he always bows his head during prayer at mealtime, and he doesn’t drink iced tea or coffee when I pass it to him.”

“Oh!” I said, “Mormon must be his religion!”

During that summer, some of the senior midshipmen believed that plebes needed to be humbled through various degrees of harassment. Shafer, however, seemed to adhere to a different philosophy. He worked hard to help us cultivate our strengths and teach us leadership skills and teamwork. He expected us to perform well and held us personally accountable for our actions. He also seemed to be keenly aware of our needs and took a personal interest in each of us.

One day, just prior to the academic year, he sat us down to have a heart-to-heart talk about what we could expect in the months to follow. We were about to meet the rest of the brigade of midshipmen who had been training with the fleet all summer. As Shafer spoke about the challenges ahead, our fears were put to rest. I thought to myself, Shafer will be there to watch over us.

Then one Saturday evening two of Shafer’s classmates returned from a night out partying. Drunk, they decided to have some fun at our expense. Just as things began to get dangerously out of hand, Shafer showed up. He walked directly to his classmates, said a few quiet words, and put them to flight.

I was amazed. These guys were both ten inches taller than Shafer. But he wasn’t intimidated. In fact, he didn’t even raise his voice. I learned a valuable lesson that night: you don’t have to raise your voice to get your point across.

On another occasion damaging gossip about a midshipman raged throughout the brigade. Shafer pulled us aside and cautioned us not to judge this person without facts to back up the accusations. He asked us not to be part of spreading rumors, because they could eventually distort truth and destroy a life.

I thought then, Here’s a person who keeps his head on straight. As a group we made the effort to remove ourselves from the spreading rumors.

Shafer graduated the next summer, but his lessons in leadership and example left their mark on many of us. Two of us were baptized while in training at the naval academy. Shafer’s example played a key role in my decision. I will never forget the words that changed my life that summer: “I think Shafer’s a Mormon.”

  • Vinny DiGirolamo serves as second counselor in the White Plains Second Ward elders quorum presidency, Suitland Maryland Stake.