CAPE ELIZABETH — Unlike 94 percent of her classmates, Cape Elizabeth High School senior Stephanie Lawsure will not be going to college in the fall.
She’ll still earn an associate’s degree, but will be paid to get it. She’ll have no college loans to repay, good health insurance coverage, will always have a place to live and when she decides to go to school it won’t cost her anything – but the first step toward all that will be boot camp with the U.S. Marine Corps in September.
Lawsure has always been one to go slightly – and confidently – against the grain, although she’s hesitant to admit it. Never an overtly athletic child, Lawsure joined Cape’s first-ever girl’s volleyball team two years ago because it sounded fun and it wasn’t something everyone was playing. It took a lot of work, but she eventually made the varsity squad and was chosen as captain.
Also in her junior year, when school guidance counselors asked her to pick her top three college choices, she rebelled against the system. “I’m 16!” she said was her reaction, “I don’t need to decide my future now.”
So while classmates eyed Bowdoin, Stanford or the University of Maine, Lawsure started considering the military.
Though she enjoys school, forcing thoughts of college just didn’t seem to fit. “I wanted to do something more out of the ordinary,” she said.
Though she initially looked at the Air Force, she’s looking forward to pushing herself to the limit as a Marine. “When I was younger, I wasn’t very physical,” Lawsure said. “Now that I am, I want to feel good about myself, I want to know I can do anything after boot camp, that nothing would be impossible.”
Lawsure said teachers and counselors warmed to the idea when they found out her assignment. After scoring high – 88 out of 99 – on the military’s aptitude test, she decided to take the Defense Language Aptitude Battery, the test the military uses to determine a recruit’s aptitude for foreign languages.
It was considered a difficult test, she said, and one not many people pass. But confident in her abilities and excited to attempt a career path other than the data systems job she’d been assigned, she took it, passed, and was promoted to a linguist position.
She’ll spend the first 18 months of her career in a language school earning an associates degree, though she’s not yet sure which language she’ll be assigned. She expects that for the remaining part of her five required years of active duty, she’ll be deployed to embassies and intelligence jobs, and get to travel a lot. If she enjoys it, she said she’ll probably re-enlist. Otherwise, she’ll use the G.I. Bill and go to school to become a teacher.
After spending her senior year mentoring students at Portland’s Reiche School, Lawsure said she hopes to someday be an inner-city history teacher. History, she said, because it fits with her military career, and inner-city because she was drawn toward the students she found at Reiche School.
“I was amazed at the diversity and how smart the kids are,” she said. “In Cape, I didn’t get to see a lot of cultures through my school, and students at Cape don’t have the same problems as Portland.”
But until she gets that far, she still has to get through boot camp and a challenging 18 months of language school, both of which are a little daunting to this 18-year-old woman. Both will be mental more than physical, she said, getting through not only workouts but also drills, school work, and training on uniforms and military etiquette – and then being placed in a school where she expects most of her colleagues will already be bilingual.
Despite her nerves, Lawsure remains certain that she’s made the right choice. She said she remembers being sworn in last October, when she entered the delayed entry program that gave her a year before starting boot camp. After being grilled about having provided correct personal information, forced to say “yes ma’am,” “yes sir” and “thank you sir,” she was officially enlisted in the Marines.
“This is cool,” she said she told herself. “I’m enlisted. I’m in the military.”