In 1992, four men - Rodney Walker, Javier Zuluaga, Tim Renda and Lewis Simms - were midshipmen in their junior year at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, fulfilling their own dreams and those of their parents and teachers.
"I wanted to go to the Naval Academy, wanted to fly Mach II with my hair on fire - that's what I wanted," recalls Simms.
Walker was the first in his family to go to college and was following a path set by his father. "My father, he had a third-grade education," Walker says. "He had the determination to not stop at where he was and improve upon himself - and so I kinda wanted to do the same thing."
Simms, who was valedictorian of his Missisippi High School, remembers when his principal announced his acceptance into Annapolis to the entire school.
They chose an institution rooted in tradition and at the core of that tradition is the academy's strict honor code, The code states that midshipmen are persons of integrity. They will not lie, cheat or steal. Break that honor code and your naval career could be over, and that 's when the trouble began, reports correspondent Erin Moriarity.
The code states that midshipmen are persons of integrity. They will not lie, cheat or steal. Break that honor code and your naval career could be over.
"Never crossed my mind that I would violate the honor code," recalls Simms. "Until this point I lived the storybook life."
That changed on Dec. 13, 1992, -the night before the toughest exam midshipmen faced - electrical engineering, also called "Double E." Class rankings and therefore future assignments, such as becoming a naval aviator, were riding on the exam.
That night, Walker heard that someone in his class was getting a copy of the test and he offered it to the others.
The test spread through the campus. Simms estimates that more than 400 of the 663 midshipmen who took the test the next day had seen a copy of it.
"I would have to say probably 80 percent of the people who took that test had knowledge and had seen it the night before," says Renda.
Immediately, they knew there would be trouble.
"Then I started thinking," says Zuluaga. "I don't think there's enough people out there that can keep their mouth shut."
He was right. Several midshipmen, including Walker confessed to having the exam.
"I realized I made a mistake and I was willing to take the blame for my mistakes, " says Walker, one of five midshipmen who were expelled after an honor board was convened. The five all admitted to cheating.
Seeing that, the others lied. The honor board took them at their word and they got to stay. They were relieved but not happy. "It eats you up inside," says Simms. "It eats you up, consumes you."
Six months later, the Naval Inspector General's office reopened the probe. Investigators pressed midshipmen to name others who had cheated. But if they "bilged," or gave up their classmates to investigators, they would violate another unwritten code: the code of loyalty, which was as strong, or perhaps even stronger, among midshipmen than the code of honor.
On graduation day, 1994, while their classmates became commissioned officers Zuluaga, Renda and Simms packed their bags. They were among 24 expelled in the cheating scandal.
Today, each lives with the consequences of his actions.
Simms, who traded his dream of flying Navy jets for a career as a teacher at Sewanaka High School, regrets he gave Renda, his friend and roommate a copy of the test.
"I'm the reason that some people didn't make it," he says. "I gave him [Tim] the test. And that's something that I have to live with."
Renda, who wears the uniform of a Las Vegas bellman these days, blames only himself: "I'm a grown man. I made my choice. And once you make your bed, you gotta lay in it."
Walker, who became a professional wrestler and is now launching his own construction business, feels most responsible because he was the one who turned them in. "Because of me, everybody's life changed," he said. Today, the three others understand.
"When I heard that he gave my name, I was upset," says Zuluaga, an insurance salesman and father. "And then I never spoke to Rodney until today since he gave me that test, cause I figured he was unstable" But he said he had not hard feelings.
He's also wiritng a book about his Academy experiences for his children. "Hopefully they will learn from my experiences and not repeat my mistakes," he says.
Simms is turning his experience into a lesson for his students.
"I was asked to leave the Naval Academy thirty days from graduation," he tells them. "Thirty days, this close to a dream, a childhood dream. Was I wrong for cheating? Yes, that was my first mistake. And I will be the first person to tell you that cheating is wrong 'cause you gotta pay the piper."
And if, in the end, Simms can keep some students on the straight and narrow, his experience will have "achieved something special," he says.
Tim is now earning his commercial pilots license.