To Norah Stapleton, joining the military felt familiar, a bit like home.
But it came a little out of left field for some of her peers and teachers.
Sans JROTC involvement, the Laney High School stellar student and star athlete, who graduates Saturday, decided to apply to–and was accepted into–the prestigious U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
“I come from a military family; my mom and dad were both in the military. It wasn’t something that was expected…but it was always in the back of my mind,” Stapleton said. “I started talking about it in about eighth grade, but I do think it surprised some people, especially some of my teachers.”
That’s not to say they didn’t think she had the chops. Stapleton, who ran varsity cross-country all four years at Laney–and ran with track and was on the swim and soccer teams–is proud to say that, with the exception of two B’s in math, she is walking away from her high school career with all A’s.
But whether it be sports, academics or West Point, the modest student takes it all in stride.
It may be because a personal tragedy–the death of her father, Matt, when she was just 11–helped put things in perspective for the teen.
“I think it made a lot of stuff in high school seem like less of a big deal. I tended to focus on more important stuff–I mean, of course, I have friends–but I tended to focus more on school and track and cross-country,” she said of her dad’s death. “I think he would be excited for me now.”
And Stapleton is certainly excited herself, albeit a little nervous about the unknown–and leaving her friends behind this summer.
Just a couple weeks after receiving her diploma, she’ll head off to New York school to begin cadet basic training.
What she’s looking forward to the most?
“Getting in really great shape,” she joked.
All jokes aside, Stapleton is looking at the next stage of her life with the same laser-like focus she gave her time at Laney. To gain entry into West Point, she received a recommendation from former U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre and a presidential nomination for children of deceased military service members.
While at West Point, she hopes to pursue legal studies.
“I’m thinking about law. I’ve always wanted to help people…so, I’m thinking of maybe criminal law or constitutional law,” she said.
And although she’ll be in the minority–roughly 20 percent of West Point cadets are women–she doesn’t seem too concerned.
“I make friends pretty easy…My [older] sisters told me to stay away from the upperclassmen boys,” she said, laughing.
There will be challenges and obstacles ahead, to be sure, but Stapleton believes she’s headed exactly where she was meant to be.
“I have never known anything besides a military kind of life,” she said. “So, I just felt more inclined to stay in that kind of life.”
Hilary Snow is a reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at (910) 772-6341 or firstname.lastname@example.org.