Life After High School: Staples Students in the Military

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Sean Gallagher ’11 currently attends the Naval Academy, a unique choice for Staples graduates.

Choosing what to do after graduating from Staples is a daunting task which will eventually be faced by most students. Do you take the traditional route and immediately begin at a four-year university, go to a trade school or take a gap year?

For an elite group of Staples students, choosing a college had a lot less to do with the vicinity to the beach or the amount of room to play Frisbee and more to do with a sense of purpose.

“I didn’t like the idea that someone else was out there on the front lines looking out for me while I was more than capable of joining the military myself,” former Staples student and current United States Naval Academy Midshipman Sean Gallagher ’11 said.

Although joining the military is not as prevalent of a choice in Westport as it is in other communities, nearly every year there are a few students willing to rise to the occasion and serve their country.

“In a way, it is my chance to contribute to what makes this country great,” Gallagher said.

After arriving at the Naval Academy, colloquially referred to as Annapolis, Gallagher noted all of the positive attributes he acquired as a result of the rigorous training “I have gained an extreme sense of time management. There are always a million things that must get done in a day, and figuring out how you will fit them all in is difficult,” Gallagher said.

Lance Corporal Kyle Degener ’11, who is currently stationed at a Marine Corps air station in Iwakuni, Japan, echoed a similar view to Gallagher’s and noted the numerous changes he has made since joining the military. “I’ve gained a lot of maturity and sense of responsibility, that comes with living on your own and making decisions for yourself,” Degener said.

Although Gallagher will a college graduate with a degree like his fellow Staples alum, he does note the significant differences between his daily life and those of his former classmates.

“It’s [Annapolis’s] one true purpose is to develop military officers. For this reason, leadership takes on a much greater importance here than it does at most other schools,” Gallagher said. “You will be required to sacrifice most of your personal time and selfish instincts for the purpose of helping your classmates, attending military exercises, working out, and getting school work done. Your personal needs are always second to the needs of others.”

Degener, who chose to enlist with the Marines rather than attend an academy, faced a completely different set of challenges. “The biggest difference since leaving Staples has been being without my family and friends. It’s been over a year since I’ve been home and not having them around has been a difficult adjustment,” Degener said.

Current Staples senior Emily Troelstra will face an additional set of challenges when she begins her time at Annapolis in the fall, since females make up only 20% of the overall student body.

“Females do make up a very small minority, but I will be on the track and field team where I will instantly have a group of girls to talk amongst all the guys,” Troelstra said.“But when I visited the Naval Academy, the women were given just as much respect and responsibility as the men.”

Once their respective time at Annapolis is complete, both Gallagher and Troelstra are expected to serve a minimum of 5 years as an officer in either the Navy or Marine Corps.

While Troelstra will choose her path later on, Gallagher already decided to fulfill his requirement in the Marine Corps.

Recognizing that the military is not a popular student choice at Staples, Gallagher encouraged students to get a better understanding of what the academies are truly about.

“While I was growing up in Westport, I was not subject to much of a military presence,” Gallagher said, “I think this detaches kids in Westport from the military, and I believe this is a bad thing. The U.S. military is very much a part of every American’s life whether they realize that or not, which is why Staples students should at least hear what the Academy has to offer.”

For Degener the hope is the same: “Staples students should know that the military can be a truly rewarding and enjoyable experience if you have the strength and determination to do it.”